Last week at the Vanguard Innovation Park Forum, Michael Bisch, the President of the Davis Downtown stated, “Let’s be clear, we’re not talking about one innovation park. We’re not talking about one physical location. The strategy that the city council adopted based on the work by Studio 30 was the dispersed strategy where you would have innovation in a number of places – some of those locations were on the periphery and some were within in the core, immediately adjacent to the university. That would be the downtown, the gateway area, and the Nishi property. That long ago was determined by the city council to be an innovation district.”
He said, “It is all of those pieces together, what comprises the innovation center, that Studio 30 talks about and that the city council said yes that’s the strategy that we’re pursuing.”
In a discussion on the Vanguard this week, he cited the resolution passed on November 13, 2012, by the Davis City Council. He noted that the city’s policy is to “pursue a ‘Dispersed Innovation Strategy’ offering flexible space (scalability) supporting needs of growing and new businesses. A combined approach of near-term close-in hub with mid-term, larger less constrained edge sites offer the best mix of University proximity and expansion capability for the City…”
He writes, “There you have it. Until the CC decides to go in a different direction, ‘Dispersed Innovation Center Strategy’ with an ‘Innovation Center’ comprising the entire community is the law of the land. This was the culmination of a multi-year public process, extending back to, and including the work of the Businesses Land Park Study, which included input from many stakeholders.”
Mr. Bisch adds, “It’s not clear to me why some champions of a peripheral innovation park are running away from the Dispersed Innovation Strategy.”
The same resolution continues with both a near-term and a mid-term strategy. The near-term strategy: “The Gateway (Downtown Research & University Innovation District) option offers the best close/in location due to the proximity to University and property owner and University interest, and should be pursued as the City’s top innovation center priority.”
That process has been going forward and Nishi is moving toward a point where it will reach a Measure R vote. There are some issues that are going to have to be resolved, in particular how they plan to handle traffic and circulation issues.
However, right after the near-term strategy was also a mid-term: “The East and West ‘edge’ sites offer viable options for location and size of larger innovation centers meeting needs of growing mid-sized companies, and should be continued to be explored as part of a mid-term Dispersed Innovation Strategy.”
It is important to understand what Studio 30’s report indicates. “Studio 30’s research suggests that the City pursue a broad strategy to attract innovative businesses that offers a number of sites that are scalable and range in size so the community can accommodate an incubator, startups and expanding businesses. Some should be directly in contact with the University. This mix of small and large sites allows the city the flexibility to successfully attract, grow and retain innovation businesses. External sites have the potential to support the most jobs because of their size and ability to accommodate a wider variety of both size and type of businesses.”
But here is a key point raised by Studio 30, which we quoted from yesterday. Studio 30 wrote, “The current isolated and dispersed sites that are available and appropriately zoned are not adequate in terms of size, location, or configuration (and related constraints) to address the emerging market need of an Innovation Center.”
The study continues, “With available reasonably priced land and effective marketing to innovative high tech companies, Studio 30 estimates Davis could absorb up to 10 percent or around 100,000 square feet of the 1-1.5 million industrial/office square footage absorbed annually in the Sacramento region. Because of this Studio 30 estimates Davis needs at least 200 acres for business development and expansion over a 20 +/- year time horizon.”
They continue, “A combination of one ‘close in’ hub or incubator with one (or in some future time, two) larger, less constrained (and presumably less costly) edge site offers the right mix of University proximity and identity with the expansion capability to address job growth and rapid business expansion.”
So, from the start, Studio 30 recognized that, while in the short-term they were going to pursue a small location, because that’s what we had, ultimately that wasn’t going to suffice. I believe that Studio 30 thought any peripheral innovation park was going to be years off and, therefore, they had to devise a way to move forward with economic development absent the kind of space that either or both of the proposed innovation parks are likely to generate.
However, the world would change very rapidly.
Council would approve the Studio 30 report in November of 2012. By March of 2013, Rob White was hired as the Chief Innovation Officer for the City of Davis. Then City Manager Steve Pinkerton said in a press release, “Adding a CIO to city staff will provide the crucial link between the City and prospective businesses looking to move to Davis, and will help develop Davis as the innovation hub for the region.”
“The CIO will be responsible for creating the culture, climate and environment that is needed for innovation, while removing barriers, both real and perceived, that hinder business growth.”
In June of 2013, we had the proposed Mace 391 project that would have put an innovation park on the large, city-owned peripheral property. However, process issues derailed the project before it got started and a later effort to re-open discussions was killed by open space advocates. That said, Mace 391 opened the door to a real discussion on peripheral innovations parks that was not possible before.
The movement toward a peripheral park became more urgent when Bayer-Agraquest announced that they were leaving Davis due to lack of available space in the summer of 2013. Moreover, the city of Davis grew increasingly concerned that another native company, Schilling Robotics, was needing additional space and might have to exit Davis as well if that space did not become available.
The renewed urgency of creating a landing spot for Schilling (and, really, there are probably three or four companies that might be in a similar position) coupled with the foreclosed opportunity on Mace 391 pushed the process, ironically, back to the Studio 30 report and the Innovation Park Task Force.
The Studio 30 report identified two locations on the periphery where the owners had expressed interest in developing the land as an innovation park.
“The East and West sites both offer larger scale ‘move-up’ opportunities with excellent acreage, infrastructure, location, and car, bike and transit accessibility,” they write.
They did note, “The East site seems preferred at this time because it offers a readily available agricultural mitigation strategy, and may have less neighborhood development concern.”
However, while Studio 30 might give a slight edge to the East, it was only slight. They write, “The West site has recently gone through additional land planning studies, and may also offer successful agricultural mitigation. The West site is slightly favorable in terms of University and downtown/proximity. Both sites offer interesting opportunities for innovative agricultural related research, urban farming elements, and sustainable/green site and building design opportunities…”
Based on that they conclude, “Both sites should be pursued for now.” They write, “Development on any of these sites will entail substantial entitlement challenges (such as agricultural mitigation); in particular, a community Measure R vote will present a major challenge for future development.”
Both the Mace Ranch Innovation Center and Davis Innovation Center (Northwest) have come forward with applications, and now there will be a process leading up to a Measure R vote.
So I think the reason why the focus has been on the peripheral spots is due to circumstances that arose after the council adopted the Studio 30 report strategy. First, necessity. As the council made clear back in July, the first rule of economic development is to keep what we have. Losing Bayer was a blow, but probably unavoidable given the deal they got. Losing Schilling and others would be a setback.
Second, opportunity. The string of events in 2013 made what seemed impossible, in the short-term in 2012, possible only a year later.
Third, if you really read the Studio 30 report closely you see that all along they are angling for the 200 acres of peripheral business development over a 20-year period. They just didn’t believe that was going to be possible as quickly as it became possible.
Nevertheless, the three-pronged strategy to pursue a “Dispersed Innovation Strategy” seems to remain intact. The city continues on course for the Nishi-Gateway project, in addition to the pursuit of the east and west “edge” sites. In the meantime, the city is looking to maximize existing inventory.
Why are we focused on the east and the west? Well, that’s simple. They are the big, peripheral projects that are going to require what is likely to be contentious Measure R votes. We are not ignoring Nishi, which is moving forward as well.
It is more difficult to cover startups and small companies in small spaces in the downtown and other existing areas. There aren’t large policy decisions there and most of those companies are not reaching out for media coverage.
But again, I think the bottom line is this quote from Studio 30: “The current isolated and dispersed sites that are available and appropriately zoned are not adequate in terms of size, location, or configuration (and related constraints) to address the emerging market need of an Innovation Center.”
Therefore, we are where we are.
—David M. Greenwald reporting