My View: Economic Development in Davis Gets a New Jolt


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

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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  1. Grok

    Measure A being voted down was not a set back as this article claims. This article actually shows that it was a good thing for Davis. The No on A side argued that there was other land available for innovation, and this article clearly shows that was true. With Measure A defeated, it would seem the path has been cleared to develop these other “underutilized” sites.

    1. Chamber Fan

      I completely disagree.  We found other space than Nishi, but that doesn’t mean we found enough other space especially now that outside companies are going to be unlikely to come in for the big project investment that we still need.  Measure A’s defeat will have a big down the line cost that you’re not even beginning to imagine because you’re thinking is so limited.

  2. Biddlin

    ““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.”

    Just blowing smoke up your skirts, I’m afraid.

    1. Grok

      You might not have noted my post on the Sierra Energy article a few weeks ago cheering them on.  I think its great Sierra Energy is going to be able to use property that was already zoned appropriately for the use they intend for it. I hope the New University Research Park project can do the same. It really is a positive thing when developers purchase land and use it for its already zoned purpose.

      1. Chamber Fan

        Sorry I don’t keep track of people’s posts generally.  I have no idea the zoning at the URP, but to make the project be what they want they are going to have to up the density quite a bit.  So that may well require a zoning change.  I just don’t get this aversion to zoning changes – the community has changed quite a bit since it was initially zoned, changes are necessary.

        1. Alan Miller

          I just don’t get this aversion to zoning changes –

          You don’t “get” that people don’t like it when something large goes up next to them that is different from what they understood could be placed there?  Uh, huh.  Not agree with I understand, but not get?

        2. Frankly

          You don’t “get” that people don’t like it when something large goes up next to them that is different from what they understood could be placed there?  Uh, huh.  Not agree with I understand, but not get?

          A bit of hyperbole here.

          I would agree that when something out of place is proposed then neighbors have a right to oppose it.

          Trackside is not out of place.

          None of the hotels proposed are out of place.

          Sterling apartments are not out of place.

          Lincoln40 is not out of place.

          Nishi was not out of place.

          Now let’s talk about out of line.  There is a lot of that from NOEs.

  3. Tia Will

    I see this as great, but hardly surprising news. There are innovators in our community who believe in flexibility and agility in developing opportunities for our community. I do not, and never did buy into the catastrophic and pessimistic thinking that the lack of voter approval for Nishi and the failure to move forward for the other large projects meant that “Davis was closed for business”. What I believe is that the current project developers correctly assessed that the voters were not on board with the very large projects at this time, and appropriately are concentrating on projects that are more acceptable and perhaps more appropriate to the nature of our community at the current time.

    I realize that this will not be seen as “optimal” by the ” grow as fast as we can” group. But I predict that it will be welcomed by those of us who would like to see more incremental change.

  4. Michael Harrington

    Did I see the phrase “mixed use” in there ?

    Watch them try to jam large apts in that tight spot.  The roads are too small.

    Is this the same Friedman who mostly wiped out our small bookstores when he built Borders?  That fellow has said ever since he will never try another project in Davis …

    I think the commercial is the way he wants to jam housing in there … Big big money for him and costs to the city and residents .,,

    “We get the traffic and costs … He gets the cash from big housing.”

    1. Adam Smith

      We get the traffic and costs … He gets the cash from big housing.”

      Well that didn’t take long …the old “developer gets all the profits and we get shafted” comment from a prominent downtown landlord who stands to earn extraordinary  PROFITS  from the lack of additional housing being built in or near downtown.

      1. Chamber Fan

        We also get substantial city revenue which goes to pay for better roads, parks, and other services and amenities.  I don’t understand how Harrington expects us to keep this community nice without money.

    2. Jim Gray

      Mike… It must be hard to wake up every-day and be so mad and negative? ( “Jam..Big big money…we get the traffic and costs… He gets the cash from big housing”. ) To suffer the burden of being on a crusade to point out the sky is falling! It also must cause such distortion to be so near sighted that you fail to see the forest for the trees?

      Here is my brief reflection on history caused by your Flaming Post.

      Friedman didn’t destroy the Avid Reader or local bookstores by creating a quality neighborhood that housed a Borders Book Store—which by the way lasted only a few years. That space now is Whole Foods.  And come to think of it Whole Foods didn’t destroy the Davis Food Coop.

      How illustrative your comments are to shine a light on your misplaced fears. Borders filed for bankruptcy and is part of the dust bin of history and Alzada Knickerbocker and her great staff at Avid Reader continues to sell books and other merchandise to developers like me and the general public. They do that by creating an inviting environment for shopping and adding value and providing service.

      With your way of thinking we needed to Stop the Davis Commons Project to protect Avid Reader?  Clearly, the independent bookstore segment of the economy was more impacted by Amazon, Kindles, and I-Pads … and reading amongst the general public and children is rising. Many of the large book chains failed … but nimble entrepreneurial merchants like the Avid Reader continues to adjust, compete and exist. Mike, I don’t think that you properly diagnose the problem or can see the good that can and does come with change.

      Mike please consider the totality of your crusade to protect us from more impacts. I want to encourage you to stop and reflect and see that not all change is bad or destructive to the environment or our quality of life. Some impacts of change and development can be and are positive.  Some see opportunities not just problems.  I recommend that you try that perspective. Some projects have community benefits and add to our quality of life.  The key is to plan and design and work to implement good projects.

      Mike take a moment and reflect on the beneficial impacts caused by projects like Friedman’s earlier investment in Davis, The Davis Commons:

      Additional dynamism and vitality and proximity for the downtown.  
      It brought additional choice for consumers so that they felt better staying downtown.
      It helped connect the downtown to the University and the Arboretum
      It was part of the masterplan that brought the infill housing and created additional opportunities to live and work in downtown and walk and participate actively in the downtown and campus.
      It brought Public Art and stimulated additional civic amenities. The Shovel Sculpture and additional acres of planting for the Arboretum, a great grassy quad and gathering place on the north side of the Commons to name a couple.
      It was part of the master plan that created the bicycle path under the railroad track and the freeway and moved thousands of bicycle trips off Richards Boulevard and made it safer and with less traffic. An incremental positive change indeed.   
      It created a place in the parking lot for EV charging stations to encourage reduction in gasoline use and  hopefully our Carbon Footprint…Those are just a few of the positive impacts that came with thoughtful change and investment.

      Let’s just agree that some of us see things very differently and that each of us has a different way to recall local history and perceive and measure the impacts of change.

      1. Don Shor

        Jim, Davis Commons is certainly an asset to Davis, but I suggest you have a private chat with Alzada, and perhaps (if you can find them) the owners of the now-defunct bookstores that were impacted by Borders before you dismiss the effect it had. Hopefully the days of category-killer retailers are behind us.

        1. David Greenwald

          Don – I understand your point, but given the plan for the current project, is it a relevant point? I mean the plan here is to do a research park, not a commercial center.

    3. ryankelly

      lol.  Posted above too soon.  Yep, predicatable response from Harrington. He argues that there are other sites than Nishi to develop spaces for business and housing, then forgets this and opposes all other plans for infill to do just that.   Maybe he’s just suffering a severe case of envy.

      1. Michael Harrington

        Ryan:  I’m just asking about the housing.  This project is being pushed by certain commercial interests.  Fine.


        Then I read the word “housing” and the light bulb went off.  The Richards overpass simply cannot stand much more housing development south of the I80 freeway.  At some point they have to acknowledge that intersection is near its limits.  If Friedman wants lots of new dense housing then he had better work on fixing the traffic.  The traffic data for South Davis is way out of date and I think Hyatt Houses reliance on Jurassic age data is morally and legally problematical.  I wouldn’t rely on that old data set if I were the applicant   I’m not criticizing the project, but am focusing on the shortcuts that staff promote to the detriment of the applicant


        We we just have to see what Friedman has in mind

    4. hpierce

      Mr H… another untruth…

      The roads are too small.

      Drew is a collector street… most apartment complexes are on collector streets.

      Cowell, is an arterial street… plenty of pavement, and Tanglewood fronts on Cowell.

      Are you capable of stating facts?  Unless you are expecting airplane access (?)…

      1. Michael Harrington

        Pierce :  how did you know I want that street for aircraft access and helicopter landing pads??

        New Large dense housing is going to be a big problem without significant fixes to the traffic jams …. FIRST.  Just saying the obvious folks … Don’t hate me for that

          1. Don Shor

            So evidently Richards will be the reason for no housing in South Davis, 5th will be too crowded for any more housing in east Davis, and of course we can’t add to any traffic on Anderson or Sycamore. And, of course, we can’t add to any traffic on Russell. I think that covers all the major arteries and gives ‘traffic’ as the excuse for no more housing, anywhere, ever. Except on campus, where thousands of new students will magically have no impact on any roads because evidently they’ll never come into town.

        1. Ron


          If (new) student housing is located primarily on campus, at least students won’t have daily commutes through town to attend class.  Safer, easier, and less impactful on city traffic, as well as on city infrastructure and finances.

          I probably won’t be able to respond further, tonight. But, I think we’ve all seen plenty of arguments and comments regarding this issue, regardless.

          On a related note, here’s some info regarding West Village, for those who haven’t seen this link previously:

          1. Don Shor

            For perhaps the hundredth time: we need student housing on campus, and we need rental housing in town.

        2. Ron

          Don:  I was responding to your statement, regarding the impact of student housing on roads:

          “Except on campus, where thousands of new students will magically have no impact on any roads because evidently they’ll never come into town.”

  5. Shanetucker

    This is good news for Davis, in-and-of itself.   But there is a fantastic secondary impact also – additional demand for hotel room nights.   The growth that will come from more intense usage and upgrade of this  park will spur additional business travelers to Davis.  Combined with the rapid growth of UCD enrollment, the on-campus conference centers and destinations (Mondavi Center, Shrem Art Museum – opening soon), etc   we can easily forecast demand growth for additional hotel room nights in Davis.      The business case for two additional hotels is even more clear than it was a couple of  weeks ago.     We have two strong brands and developers willing to put capital at risk to bring those two hotels to market.     And on a related, the case for the Hyatt location becomes stronger as this demand generator is only a half mile away, and is easily walkable or bike-able.

  6. Tia Will

    I agree that this project will bolster the case for the Hyatt based on proximity. This is a major issue for me as I did not share the developers viewpoint that this location would be likely to minimize car usage. For me, this does strengthen that argument and makes the Hyatt more attractive.

  7. Misanthrop

    Aside from the increased property taxes from the sale of the property how long do you think it will be before Davis sees any additional tangible benefits from this property? 1,3,5,10 years? Maybe the Vanguard should start a pool. My guess is with Davis’ planning process and opposition from the usual suspects 5 years minimum but more like ten years. Hardly something to get too excited about.

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