On Tuesday came the surprise announcement from the Davis Innovation Center that they were pulling out of their planned innovation park development on a parcel north of Sutter-Davis Hospital and just west of Highway 113.
In a release they claimed, “After investing considerable time and resources to respond to the City of Davis Request for Expression of Interest (RFEI) and submit our proposal, we have decided to put our application on hold. Our decision is based on the assessment that getting approvals to develop this world class project at the current time is less likely to succeed than initially appeared. “
However, Dan Ramos, who heads up the development team for the Mace Ranch Innovation Center located just east of Mace Blvd on the northern side of I-80, told the Vanguard that they are in it for the long haul. At the same time, while he was surprised like everyone else, he could understand it.
Mr. Ramos told the Vanguard, “My initial reaction is that I could understand it, it’s a very risky thing we’re all doing here in terms of money and the process that’s set forth because we’ve got to go to the voters.”
“So I’m surprised and not surprised,” he said. “I know we’re going through – it’s a lot of work.”
Mr. Ramos said it is a process where you are constantly evaluating the risk factors and what it will take to complete the project. The Measure R process looms large, as well, “and we’re always weighing: do you keep making the investment?”
He said, “Obviously, they came to the conclusion that they had better take a little break on this thing.”
For the Mace team, “We were always concerned – we made this very clear – that two of these projects at the same time on the ballot would be very tough for the community to swallow.” He said, realizing that, “we were always kind of wondering how this would all shake out.”
He believed that at some point the council would have had to weigh in on the two projects and how they wanted this to go. However, the council would delay that decision, wanting to get as much data and information as possible before making a decision. As it turns out, the decision was made for them.
Now, moving forward, “We think it’s going to be a little less confusing for the people of Davis now with one project on the back burner – at this time, not saying that the other project can’t come at another time – they just put it on hold – but I think we’re going to find as more information comes out, economics and capacity and loads of infrastructure, what this community can really accept and take on at this point in time.”
Mr. Ramos said they remain on track. They are excited about addressing Schilling Robotics’ needs, which he said “is kind of driving our process.” In addition, he said they are doing everything possible to outreach to other potential companies to move into a park.
“Until you get more down the road (and have more) certainty, it’s hard to approach a lot of other companies to come,” he said.
The Vanguard asked Dan Ramos if they had concerns now that the Davis Innovation Center had pulled out, citing uncertainties about the prospects for success. He said very delicately that he felt that, if anything, they now have more certainty than they did before.
“We actually have a little more relief in terms of it being a little easier for the voters and the citizens of Davis to comprehend one project off the bat and kind of understanding what it brings and what its impact is,” he explained. He reiterated, “It might make it a little less confusing at the ballot box.”
“We’re confident [about it] when they see what’s there to offer and what it means to the community,” he said.
Dan Ramos said he believes that, by June, the city will have an EIR and a traffic study. He also said that the way things are progressing, he expects that the project will be voted on by the people on the June 2016 ballot.
He said he thinks it makes sense that it would be on a regularly scheduled election with the city council candidates, as well.
When the Davis Innovation Center backed out of their proposed project, City Manager Dirk Brazil and Community Development Director Mike Webb were quick to clarify that the problem was not with the city staff.
As Mike Webb put it, “As far as we know – and we asked them – they were very pleased with the process here in Davis and raised no concerns with respect to the review and analysis being performed.”
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis told the Vanguard, “After conversations with the principals, I am satisfied that our staff and consultants did everything expected of them to move this process forward.”
“Our timeline was aggressive but was working for everyone and the principals made it clear that they believe we have a great team in place in the City. Thus, there is nothing that we could have or should have done differently from their perspective,” he said.
The Mayor Pro Tem did not want to speculate at this time, stating, “They simply made the decision that they were not prepared to move forward at this time. They offered no specifics as to the reasons for this decision. Staff is, not surprisingly, disappointed since they were informed of this decision just two days before the administrative draft EIRs were to be made available to the project teams.”
Mr. Davis added, “Staff and consultants have met every deadline and moved things forward crisply. Given that the project is on hold, the analysis of the EIR results do not change for the other projects under consideration. We expect an update on the entire process at the May 26th City Council meeting.”
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson told the Vanguard on Wednesday that she had yet to speak with the applicants and was declining comment until after she did so.
—David M. Greenwald reporting