Monday Morning Thoughts III: Revisiting Innovation Centers

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Innovation-Park-example

The discussion on the Purdue Innovation District got off track from where I hoped it will go, so I will revisit the issue here to focus on potential avenues that our Davis leadership, along with UC Davis and private partnerships, should consider exploring.

The idea of a similar partnership among a private investor or company, the university, and the city should be explored.  In West Lafayette, Indiana, home of Purdue University, Purdue Research Foundation and Browning Investments are teaming up on what will be a $1.2 billion mixed-use project at the west end of the Purdue campus that will take about 15 to 20 years to build out.  The size would be 450 acres.

Forget about the 450 acres for right now, because I don’t really see a site in our case that would accommodate a project of that size.  Instead, we should revisit the three sites identified by the Innovation Parks Task Force, as well as the Studio 30 report.

The Nishi site is undoubtedly on the small side for the scope of this type of project that envisions “several million feet of building space including housing for students, faculty and city residents; a hotel with conference center; restaurants; office and business space; parks; research facilities and industrial space.”

Moreover, with a hotel conference center across the street at UC Davis, as well as on the other side off Richards Boulevard, such a facility would already be in place.

Nishi is small, but, as we noted previously, USC Village only has 15 acres but on that property USC envisioned 1.25 million square feet of retail in addition to 2700 students a year.  That’s packed onto a site that is one-third the size of Nishi.

Clearly we can do more, but part of the key for the USC Village was that USC itself was investing $650 million into the village.

For bigger sites we can look back to the area north of Sutter-Davis Hospital where the Davis Innovation Center was proposed, as well as out at Mace where MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center) was proposed.

A university-city-private partnership could benefit all involved.

From the university’s standpoint, it is looking to increase its research to market, technology transfer share.  The limiting factor in the city of Davis has been lack of space, both for start-ups and also for move-ups, where existing business has needed larger space.

The university is looking at the Railyards in Sacramento, which is currently a 244-acre site, considering transforming the historic railroad site into a “mixed-use hub for entertainment, retail, housing, office, theaters, parks, hotels, and museums.”  They envision this as including “over one million square feet of retail, 2.3 million square feet of office, a hotel, varying residential housing units, and recreational and cultural uses.”

While the university has looked at this possibly for the location of the billion dollar World Food Center, it has run into some problems with the logistics of transporting academics away from the main Davis campus.

The university has also looked into developing its own innovation district in Solano County on the south part of campus, but it announced last fall that those plans have been scrapped.

With the university’s increased financial muscle and billion dollars of research money, not to mention access to capital, working with the city and a private developer on local lands makes a lot of sense.

From the perspective of a private developer, we have seen two planned innovation centers go by the wayside for various reasons, mostly relating to the uncertainty of getting a Measure R vote through the voters, as well as financing.

By getting UC Davis involved in the financing, a private developer would have a better time with dealing with these market uncertainties.  While a mixed-use project probably still makes more economic, fiscal and environmental sense, if housing is a deal-killer, the investment by the university may make it feasible.

Finally, from the city’s standpoint there is the need to develop new streams of revenue, and bring in additional jobs that could serve a high-tech and highly-educated young workforce.  Moreover, the city has lost two projects before they got to the voters, and a more modest one at the polling place.  By partnering with the university and private investors, we may be able to finally get an innovation center in front of the voters.

Can the city council convince UC Davis to invest half a billion into an innovation park locally?  That will be a tall task for sure.  One way that the city may consider doing so, however, would be to present the idea to the voters first and be able to show the university and investors that there is support in the community for such a project.

Right now, there is a general belief that Davis is not open for business.  That is a pervasive view that I have heard expressed directly and indirectly all over the region.

As Davis needs to generate revenue, Davis is going to need to figure out creative ways to do so within a general slow-growth perspective.

I still believe that Davis can maintain its small and compact city, maintain its support for innovative and sustainable projects and allow itself modest growth to accommodate our amenities and services.

Right now we have argued that Davis’ future is not sustainable – we cannot continue on the path we are on.  Something will have to give.  Allowing for a modest-sized project is one way forward.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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19 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts III: Revisiting Innovation Centers”

  1. Chamber Fan

    Is UC Davis willing to put real capital towards an innovation park project?  If they are, then I would think that either the previous developers would come back or someone would be willing to roll the dice.  But given what I’ve read from Mr. Harrington and others, I’m skeptical that that will be enough.  I wonder if Mr. Harrington recognizes how much damage he is causing to this community.

  2. Misanthrop

    “Right now we have argued that Davis’ future is not sustainable – we cannot continue on the path we are on.  Something will have to give.”

    To paraphrase Keynes, Davis can stay irrational longer than it can stay solvent.

  3. Misanthrop

    One problem with the role of UC Davis is the local anti-corporate sentiment that has played out over the last decade through the US Bank and Anti-Monsanto protests. This history makes UCD  shy away from such ventures. This is one reason Katehi wanted to put the World Food Center in Sac and UCD has not put forth any plans to build an innovation center on its own land. I’m not sure about a UCD joint venture or UCD branded innovation center but it seems UCD is trying to spin out its intellectual capital and recoup its investment through donations instead of a direct interests. Strawberries are an exception of course but they are kind of grandfathered in from a previous era.

    1. Miwok

      The US Bank was trying to be a Corporate Partner, and had an office in the MU on campus, and still has in place ID cards for the UCD system, at their cost. What scotched their involvement was ONE Professor who decided the Bank would be his site for Occupy Protests, and all the students he could bribe to block as much legitimate business as possible.

      No action by the University was taken.

  4. The Pugilist

    I’m surprised this article didn’t get more attention.  If we are going to move forward with economic development, this seems to be the way to do it.

    1. Miwok

      Instead, we should revisit the three sites identified by the Innovation Parks Task Force, as well as the Studio 30 report.

      Maybe see where mistakes were made and correct them? nah.

  5. Edison

    I personally think the Nishi project might have garnered approval if it had been a joint venture project involving the City, the developer and UCD–and if it had been strictly an innovation park without housing. However, UCD’s Long Range Development Plan website (“Campus Tomorrow”) only makes passing reference to Nishi and takes no position on the project.  The neutral position by UCD is somewhat odd, but perhaps the defeat of Measure A could spur more vigorous involvement by UCD in a revised proposal. In terms of housing at the site, I realize that reasonable people may disagree about the concerns expressed by Dr. Cahill, but the fact remains that the City’s EIR determined that the air quality impacts resulting from diesel truck combustion and braking were significant and unavoidable. Having started my career almost 40 years ago as an air quality specialist with the American Lung Association, I believe that prudence should always dictate caution in light of such findings related to human health.

    1. Miwok

      For all the Press releases about the $Billions of research money, that is not for “development”. As a veteran of Employee Negotiations, I can tell whet they tell us, which is plead Poverty at every turn, while publishing glowing reports of how they are/ are not doing.

      I worked a contract at development most of one (2010) year while the “$billion” dollar campaign was going, and I can tell you they went back fifteen years to get number even close to that.

      The other thing I know is the UC lost a $Billion from the State that year, and UCD’s share was $100 Mil. This put the whole campus into a tailspin. I was terminated almost immediately, as a contractor. Nowadays they hire EVERYONE as a limited term “contractor” like this.

      If you speak of them “investing” a half $bil into anything, they have to convince and have allocated BY THE LEGISLATURE the money to do it, according to UC. This, like Davis, takes more then five years to get online with construction.

    2. Matt Williams

      Edison said . . . “Having started my career almost 40 years ago as an air quality specialist with the American Lung Association, I believe that prudence should always dictate caution in light of such findings related to human health.”

      That is not an unreasonable position Edison.  The question that it raises is what should the City do about the residents on Olive Drive and in Old East Davis who are exposed to the same level of health risk?

      1. Roberta Millstein

        There is reason to think that those residents are not exposed to the same level of health risk.  Among other things, Nishi is adjacent to an area where there is frequent braking (as the number of lanes on the freeway is reduced) with an elevated freeway.  The peer-reviewed studies that Dr. Cahill cites show that these increase the concentration of pollutants.  But if we really want to know, we should do measurements at all of these areas.

        1. Don Shor

          Only part of the site has elevated freeway.
          The concentration depends on wind direction and wind speed.
          The other sites have no mitigation; Nishi would have had significant mitigation.

          1. Don Shor

            How do you plan to measure the impact of the mitigation? And are you now proposing that measurements be taken all over town? Russell Blvd.? Curious how much data you feel is needed before a decision can be made, and who would be the arbiter of the risk.

        2. Roberta Millstein

          Don, I think the only areas that should be measured are areas that are similar to ones that have shown to be problematic in the existing studies, in the absence of reason to suspect the other areas.  I don’t think Dr. Cahill shares your view that these other areas are sufficiently similar.  Measurements should be taken during different times of the year so as to account for season differences in temperature and wind.  Whether proposed mitigations make a significant difference can also be measured.  It is a policy decision as to whether the risk is tolerable or not, and so such decisions should be made by policymakers in conjunction with scientific experts.  In California, however, the proposition system allows that pretty much any decision could potentially be made by voters.

  6. Don Shor

    So, basically to answer David’s question, given the comments on this thread and others:

    Can the city council convince UC Davis to invest half a billion into an innovation park locally?  That will be a tall task for sure.  One way that the city may consider doing so, however, would be to present the idea to the voters first and be able to show the university and investors that there is support in the community for such a project.

    I would say the answer is no.

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