By Dan Ramos
Our experiences so far on the Mace Ranch Innovation Center project have been much like going on a trip to a new destination. If you’re like me, you want to have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting into. But you also understand that it’s often through the unanticipated moments that perceptions are changed and you learn the most.
When we responded in 2012 to the City of Davis’ Request for Expressions of Interest to develop an innovation center on 229 acres at Mace Blvd. and Interstate 80, we were confident that we had a good plan consistent with the City’s Guiding Principles for Davis Innovation Centers and based on what we felt at the time would most benefit the community.
That proposal includes 2.65 million square feet of research, manufacturing and commercial facilities, 64 acres of open space, innovative transportation systems, and cutting-edge technology and sustainability features, all with an eye toward eventually accommodating nearly 5,900 employees.
The innovation center is envisioned as a world-class hub connecting leading-edge tech companies, research and development organizations, local start-ups, business incubators and U.C. Davis. When the city then asked us to consider adding a housing component to our project for environmental analysis purposes, we were hesitant.
But as we started doing serious homework on what made for successful innovation projects in communities such as Boulder, Palo Alto, Raleigh/Chapel Hill, Champaign/Urbana and more, what became increasingly clear was the importance of incorporating housing into the plans. To help reinforce the point, a 2014 Brookings Institution report on innovation districts around the country noted that “shifting demographic and household dynamics are fueling demand for more walkable neighborhoods where housing, work, and amenities intermix.”
We’ve also consulted with the Davis-area tech community and been told that an innovation center with housing will be much more attractive to them because their employees often are living in Sacramento, West Sacramento, Dixon, Woodland and other area communities where housing is more available and affordable.
Taking this research and feedback into consideration, we’ve concluded that a Mace Ranch Innovation Center with housing is a better project, not just because it’s more marketable but also because it’s better for Davis.
Incorporating 850 live-work lofts, higher-density apartments and units with garage work space that would be attractive to those working in the innovation center – and housing types not currently found much in Davis – provides the following significant benefits:
More efficient use of land. The mixed-use project adds housing without reducing research, manufacturing and commercial uses. This increases overall open space by 19 percent, from 64 acres to 76 acres, and helps reduce pressure to convert additional agricultural land.
Reduces auto trips, vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions. According to the city’s environmental impact report, adding housing to the project reduces vehicular trips by 35 percent during the morning commute period and 32 percent during the evening commute period, and cuts vehicle miles traveled by more than 25 percent.
Positive economic impact. According to the city’s economic analysis, the mixed-use project produces a nearly $2 million annual surplus for the city’s General Fund, providing much-needed new resources for parks, public safety, road maintenance and other city services. Countywide total annual economic output at buildout is estimated at $2.8 billion.
Eliminates the need to retrofit later. Innovation centers in places like Palo Alto have been redesigned to include high-density housing. Developing a mixed-use project from the outset eliminates the need for less efficient and costlier retrofitting, and helps to ensure near-term project success.
Most of us have heard and been a part of discussions about the lack of housing for young families, new graduates whose intellect and skills can and should play a bigger role in helping to strengthen our local economy, teachers, public safety personnel and others who’d like to call Davis home but typically can’t.
While our mixed-use project, which would be developed within current city housing limits, won’t and isn’t intended to solve those issues, it will at least help retain some of the talent Davis currently is losing to other communities.
As we’ve discussed the many advantages of the mixed-use alternative with the Natural Resources, Open Space and Habitat, Finance and Budget, and Bicycle, Transportation and Street Safety Commissions over the past several weeks, it’s been clear that most commissioners see the value of including live-work housing in our project.
Next up is the City Council, which this week is expected to weigh in on whether we should reduce our two current project options – one with housing, one without – to just one for final planning and analysis.
We want to develop the best project possible for Davis, and that’s the one that includes housing. We’ll move forward either way. But we hope council members and eventually the community in general will see the wisdom in a mixed-use plan.
Dan Ramos is vice president at Ramco Enterprises and project manager for the Mace Ranch Innovation Center.