The city of Davis’ economic development plans suddenly came into focus on Tuesday, as a letter from the Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) applicants – Buzz Oates, Reynolds & Brown, and Ramco Enterprises – sent a letter to the city requesting the recommencement of the processing of the innovation center application.
The project moving forward, now known as the Aggie Research Campus, was placed on hold three years ago in the spring of 2016. Now it is back for council consideration and a possible Measure R vote. “The project is designed to support tech transfer from UC Davis and solidify Davis’ role as the ag-tech capital of the world,” a release stated.
The Aggie Research Campus (ARC) is “the culmination of years of independent economic and environmental analyses, and conversations between the City, UC Davis, community, and the ARC partners, Buzz Oates, Reynolds & Brown and Ramco Enterprises. The project will be located in northeast Davis.”
Building upon the earlier proposal and utilizing the already-certified alternative to the Final EIR, “the ARC provides a cutting-edge innovation campus with a tech transfer focus that has been a community and UCD priority since 1992, while addressing the City’s need for workforce housing. It also delivers a significant economic benefit to Davis, helping to address the City’s budget deficit and supporting vital public services like transportation, infrastructure, and public safety.”
“We never lost faith in the Innovation Center and its ability to have a meaningful positive impact on Davis,” said Dan Ramos, Project Manager for ARC, in the letter to the city council.
He added: “We’ve used the past three years to further investigate and confirm the best approach for ensuring long-term project success, delivering an innovation campus that meets the economic development objectives identified by the City and that is a great fit for Davis.
“We are confident that the path now proposed will deliver an innovation and technology center that respects and reflects Davis values, is environmentally responsible, benefits the local economy, and is consistent with the vision that the City has been discussing and analyzing for nearly a decade.”
Councilmember Dan Carson said in a statement, “I am glad this team is ready to re-engage with our community on their Aggie Research Campus proposal. I invite Davis residents to share their comments and suggestions with city planning staff and the applicants for ensuring that any project constitutes sound land-use policy, addresses any environmental impacts, and is fiscally positive for the city.
“This community conversation is important because obtaining additional city tax revenue and jobs from economic development are critical to the future of our city.”
Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida added, “I am encouraged that this group took a slow and measured approach to fully exploring options. This can be a real opportunity for our citizens.”
Assistant City Manager Ashley Feeney said, “As host City to a world-class university in UC Davis, the City is brimming with human capital and talent. The proximity to campus is also an exciting prospect for businesses that prosper through a synergistic relationship with research and development universities. Davis is well located, serving as a bridge between Sacramento and the greater Bay Area region with a Amtrak station that serves the Capitol Corridor.”
In 2014, the city asked developers and applicants to come forward with proposals for innovation centers following a period of planning that included the Innovation Park Task Force and Studio 30. At that time, two proposals came forward as applications: Mace Ranch Innovation Center (MRIC) and the Davis Innovation Center.
The Davis Innovation Center was placed on hold in 2015 and eventually it moved up to Woodland. MRIC was placed on hold in the spring of 2016 after council rejected a proposal for it to go forward with housing. However, in the fall of 2017, the city council certified the EIR which had been completed prior to the project being placed on hold.
As Dan Ramos explains in the letter, “Since placing the Project on hold, our team has continued to meet with tech industry experts and executives to ensure that we have a clear understanding of their current and future needs.”
He explains that, as the result of the meetings, “we have a more complete sense of what is necessary to make a large-scale innovation center in Davis a success in the near term and well into the future. What we have learned definitively through our earlier and more recent outreach efforts is that the inclusive campus model – a component of which is workforce housing – is essential for the success of a modern center.”
Mr. Ramos explains, “This reality is clear when you look at new and redeveloping corporate campuses in Silicon Valley, Austin, Texas and the Triangle Area of North Carolina, all of which are incorporating workforce housing into their campus facilities.”
According to the press release, the new Aggie Research Campus “will offer building types supporting the Davis innovation ecosystem, including wet/dry laboratory, office, R&D, prototyping, light manufacturing, and flex-space to strengthen the ‘research-to-market’ process for emerging businesses, and to enable expansion of local companies. The campus also will provide state-of-the-art fiber optic network, helping support access to high speed broadband to more neighborhoods in Davis.”
The campus “will further Davis’ leadership in sustainability by providing LEED green building standards, groundwater recharge, energy and water efficiency, and access to multi-modal transportation that will reduce or eliminate daily car trips for those working or living on-site. The campus will also provide needed workforce housing so that people working at ARC can live near their jobs, further reducing vehicle trips.”
ARC will also include approximately 64 acres of open space, “which will be privately maintained and available to the public, and the permanent preservation of land to protect native threatened owl species. It will also deliver amenities to make northeast Davis more walkable, bikeable, and transit-accessible, including privately funded improvements to make Mace Boulevard and County Road 32A safer for bicyclists.”
Once completed, the project proponents estimate it will annually generate $2.2 million in direct city revenue, and have an ongoing countywide economic impact of $2.65 billion of output.
The workforce housing component at this point does not have specificity. However, an alternative version of the Final EIR included 850 units of workforce housing in addition to the innovation space.
Now the question is whether the voters will support this as the future vision for Davis.
Ashley Feeney said, “We look forward to discussing the details of the proposal further with the Aggie Research Campus team. Economic development that promotes a diverse and resilient economy furthering the fiscal health of the City is of keen interest.”
He added, “The unique attributes of Davis offer a compelling opportunity for businesses that value those strengths. We are excited about evaluating the proposal and working with the project proponents to bring a project forward for consideration by our commissions, City Council and the Davis community.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting