Last week, the applicants for a commercial development east of Mace Boulevard submitted a letter to the city signaling that they will be re-engaging in the process of attempting to entitle the 200 or so acres of land as what will now be known as Aggie Research Campus, a roughly 185-acre high tech research park with a mixed-use component which will require council approval and voter ratification through a Measure R vote.
The Vanguard sat down late last week with project manager, Dan Ramos of Ramco Enterprises, who explained, “It was time. We still feel very strongly about the site, the location, and the market to be able to do this.”
He said that “Davis’ potential” played a huge role in his decision to continue to go forward “and be a real leader in bringing forth this kind of innovation center/research park type thing.”
Mr. Ramos also noted that with Aggie Square going forward in Sacramento, it was time for Davis to “grab ahold of that ring and we feel we’re in the right spot to do it.”
Dan Ramos discussed the decision to re-brand from Mace Ranch Innovation Center, which he said he also considered a placeholder name, to Aggie Research Campus.
“This town is known internationally,” he said, and Aggie is synonymous with the school. For many companies looking to potentially move to Davis, UC Davis is the draw that brings many to the table. “There are companies that know this university worldwide… they love the access to the graduate students that are coming out of here.”
He sees this as a critical way to tap into the power of the university and connect their research park with the technology transfer from the university.
“The World Food Center is a big concept,” he said. “This is the epicenter where we learn how to feed the world.
“We can set the table for that kind of research being done,” he added.
He said, “Aggie is what brought us to Davis.” He added, “Research is primarily what we’ll be doing here.” And “campus” is “because we felt very strongly about introducing the workforce or the housing component that relates to the jobs that we have here.
“We see it as a campus, that kind of environment,” Dan Ramos continued. “Live, work, innovative area.”
Dan Ramos talked about the housing component, which naturally has drawn a lot of attention early on from Vanguard readers.
“It will be high-density housing,” he said. “A retail component below where we have the coffee shop, the brew pub, or whatever it might be where people might hang out, interface and do their thing.
“We’re not talking about single-family homes,” he said importantly and plainly. In addition, Dan Ramos told the Vanguard that ARC will “consider” and is open to a “co-housing” model. They have begun exploring such innovative models as they consider a more specific proposal when it comes to council.
He noted that this addresses what the users want – housing to house their workers. He sees it as a draw for both new companies moving to town, as well as existing companies looking to upscale and trying to figure out where their employees would live.
He said that when companies approach Davis, one of the key questions in addition to available space ism, “Where do my people live?” He said, “This housing is an opportunity to do that.
“We want the opportunity there because it really does help us on the environmental side in terms of the traffic and the greenhouse gas,” he added. “Really embrace what Davis is all about.”
In terms of the specifics – they are still working that out at this point. However, he suggested the 850-unit figure from the previous discussions was in the ballpark of what they would do. He explained that there was a formula that determined the amount of housing needed for a project of this size.
“Somewhere in that 800 to 850 was a sweet spot in terms of the proper balance in the jobs-housing balance,” he said.
“This is not a housing project,” he said again, firmly and bluntly. “If anything this is an accessory use to what we’re trying to do. It helps us enhance the innovation or the research park part of it. It helps us be successful.”
Housing wasn’t originally included in the proposal per the RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest). That was written into the proposal – based on the belief that housing would be the “third rail” and harm the project’s chances for passage.
Doing the EIR, however, staff came back to them and told them, “You need to have an alternative that’s mixed-use because it’s environmentally superior.”
“We looked into it at that point,” he said. “Low and behold it comes back as the environmentally superior alternative.
“That’s when we started embracing (housing),” he stated. He argued this made more sense.
It had the benefit of helping traffic impacts and it also created an innovative culture by having people living near where the jobs were created.
Dan Ramos noted that there have been a lot of new developments in the last five years since they first came forward with their concept – in terms of transit, Jump bikes, scooter-sharing, and how people connect.
He suggested they may look at automated bus service between the train station and Aggie Research Campus.
Dan Ramos envisions a high tech research park that also could have some manufacturing components. An example he gives is Mori Seiki, which produces high tech widgets that can generate sales and thus sales tax for the city.
“That’s always the grand slam of economic development,” he said and Davis has had good success with companies like Mori Seiki and Schilling Robotics (FMC Technologies). He sees a lot of potential to not only have research but products built here.
He said he was going to look toward successes at innovation campuses “where they do have working and living and doing the research with the excitement that comes along with that.”
He noted the importance of the innovation culture where people run into each other on the location, perhaps at a coffee shop, and ideas emerge.
Following the defeat of Nishi with its 300,000 acres in 2016, he felt like the city was a bit reluctant to move forward with their project.
But now he said, “As we move forward, we believe it’s really important to bring the best possible project using the latest planning doctrine…. and Davis being a leader in the environmental movement, it was really important to have the housing component.”
For many companies, Dan Ramos said, following many others we have spoken to, the need for housing is a huge consideration as to where they will move their company.
He said talking to Bay Area companies, he learned that housing is a huge issue and “so important for attracting employees. It’s a big priority for them in terms of recruiting and everything,” Mr. Ramos said.
Dan Ramos talked about bringing pride to this community: “We are the AgTech capital of this world.”
In terms of the university, Dan Ramos said they have reached out to Greater Sacramento and are hoping to engage the university in terms of how they can have a greater presence in the project.
He said, “That’s definitely our next step.”
At this time, they don’t have an anchor tenant lined up. Originally the plan was that Schilling Robotics might have an opportunity to relocate there. That opportunity, however, may have passed them up.
He explained that he didn’t know their current plans. Tyler Schilling evidently is stepping back and FMC is more and more running the show.
Nevertheless, Mr. Ramos is optimistic.
Dan Ramos said he thinks with what Davis has to offer, in terms of quality of life, “there could be some pretty prominent companies – companies that Davis wants to have or want to be here, (and) would see this as a really good alternative.”
For many companies, having land that is “shovel ready” is critical.
“Companies want to know that entitlements are done. They don’t want to have to go through an election,” he explained. “Be as ready to go as you can. They’ll wait for some infrastructure stuff if they know you have entitlements and are (otherwise) ready to go.”
He said if they get it entitled, ready to go, and phase in some infrastructure, “we believe there’s a user there.
“It’s very difficult to entice a user – they want certainty and we don’t have that anywhere,” he said.
For the most part, the EIR, certified in 2017, means that they are not changing most of their plans from the previous proposal. About 2.5 million square feet is projected at build-out. The changes from the mixed-use alternative will mostly be cosmetic rather than substantial.
“If anything it will be reduced,” he said.
In addition, there are 25 acres of city land that could be used for an urban farm of some sort.
“We are not proposing in our application to include that,” he clarified. “We’ll leave it up to the city for how they want this community to put that land into play. Whatever they want to do they’ll embrace it and make it work.”