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