Things were looking rather bleak on the economic development front just a month ago, but that has now changed in a big way – first, with the Sierra Energy announcement of their venture and, now, Mark Friedman’s acquisition of what will now be called University Research Park.
We can go back to the discussions of 2013 to recognize that the Interland Business Park was always viewed as an underutilized resource.
Underutilized because, on 32.7 acres of land, we have single-story buildings. What has been needed is the investment into the area to maximize its potential. And while right now there are a lot of top tenants – including UC Davis and its Office of Research, Novozymes, Marrone Bio Innovations, West Yost, Blue Oak Energy, Bio Consortia, Central Valley Fund, SunWest Foods, Brown and Caldwell, and many more – Mark Friedman and company will be looking at ways to turn this from a very high quality asset into a world class research and tech park.
Right now there are 300,000 square feet of buildings, 1100 parking spaces, a half-dozen high speed internet providers, and 17 buildings of which 90 percent are occupied with 25 great tenants.
This is what Davis needed. Mark Friedman and Fulcrum Property are regionally well respected. They can bring economic development and job growth, with high quality companies and facilities.
This announcement, following the Sierra Energy one, puts Davis back on the map. The city has had recent setbacks with Nishi, and the loss of Mace Ranch and Davis Innovation Centers – and the university had removed their business park from the LRDP (Long Range Development Plan).
The developers definitely see this as an asset – close to the university – that they can upscale. What does that mean? That part is not yet clear and will obviously develop as time goes on. They have a clear commitment to the current 25 great tenants, but clearly this purchase was made with more ambition than just the status quo.
They see UC Davis as a magnet and hub, with the local research and talent to attract world class companies to Davis.
“The velocity of interest in Davis as a place to locate and grow is real and accelerating. We believe that University Research Park with additional new investment and focus which Fulcrum is offering will make that an even better reality,” local brokers told the Vanguard.
This represents unmitigated big news to have someone with the reputation and experience of Mark Friedman and Fulcrum purchasing a major asset in Davis. The $70 million purchase should quell skeptics who wondered if there was really a market in Davis for high-tech, university-oriented research parks.
It was not long ago that the Vanguard was questioning the city as to what the next move was. Nishi was narrowly defeated at the polls and would have brought in 300,000 square feet of R&D space. Between Sierra Energy and now the University Research Park, we can easily see more than twice that added to Davis inventory. And now we will see a space on both sides of Research Park Drive that will see innovative energy added to our ecosystem.
And the beauty of both is that they will largely not impact current residents and will not require anything more than zoning changes – if that.
At the same time, Sierra Energy is looking at hosting 25 to 30 new companies on their 4.5 acre R&D facility. The University Research Park has 32 acres and we are likely to see them double or triple their current 300,000 square feet of R&D space.
This will undoubtedly more than make up for the loss of Nishi’s 300,000 square feet of R&D space. What it will not do is provide us with the large spaces that a Mace Ranch or Davis Innovation Center would provide. We will not have 40 acres to put an expanded Schilling Robotics, for example, or to house a Bayer-AgraQuest – which left Davis a few years ago.
Remember, the Dispersed Innovation Strategy called for the development of Nishi in addition to a peripheral site.
From the Studio 30 report, “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.”
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.”
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.”
Have no doubt here – this is a great thing because we now have two “close in” hubs and incubators that can really ratchet our economic development further. This could buy us some time and help reignite the momentum that has been lost in the last two years and launch us forward to the next level, whether that is a peripheral innovation center like we were talking about in 2014 or a university-city-private partnership somewhere near campus.
The brokers tell us: “It is our goal to make the University Research Park not just the ‘best business park in Davis’ but to be the ‘best Dynamic Mixed-Use Employment Center’ in the Sacramento Region.”
That is what we need. And now Davis has had two victories in one month after a series of setbacks. We look forward to seeing how this progresses and to new announcements about new tenants that will be great additions to our community, as well as to the region.
—David M. Greenwald reporting