Among the concerns that some critics of the Aggie Research Campus project had was that the applicant left open the possibility that affordable housing for the project would be off-site, funded through in-lieu fees. However, in a wide-ranging interview this week with project manager Dan Ramos, he announced that most of the affordable housing would be on-site.
Dan Ramos said that the project will have more affordable housing than any other project in town and he added that will be in the baseline features and most of it will be on-site.
As the ARC project traverses through the commission process, Dan Ramos sat down for an interview over Zoom with the Vanguard that covered a wide range of topics.
Earlier in the week, the Finance and Budget Commission began their analysis of the EPS (Economic & Planning Systems) report which had found that the project would net about $5.4 million in ongoing annual revenue, with a $2.2 billion impact for Yolo County.
“The EPS report was very positive,” Ramos said. “I think it clearly shows there’s a substantial benefit… Our development can bring a lasting impact to the income stream for a long time.”
He also believes that, given the economic downturn, “now is the time.
“We are in some very uncertain times right now,” he said, noting the Chamber survey finding a large percentage of businesses with revenues far down. “We have to work hard to get out of this thing. This would set the stage to be very helpful for the city of Davis.”
He noted that Greater Sacramento is playing a bigger role and ARC’s development team is in talks with the university. “They do have an interest in this project. We look forward to a relationship with them in terms of tech transfer.
“A lot of players at the university are developing technology right now and want to transfer it out to the private sector,” he said. Some announcements, he said, would be rolled out in the near future.
But all this is contingent on what he said, “getting in the game.” Without the entitlements, none of this will be possible. He said, “We bring a great project to a great property with a lot of amenities to the city of Davis that a lot of these business parks across the country don’t do.”
He has rolled out a pledge for 100 percent renewable energy at the project.
“Nowhere, that I know of, anywhere in the country, has anybody made that commitment,” he said. He believes that will be a huge challenge for them and their users, but it gets to the theme that they are trying to be a very sustainable project. “We think we will be able to attract those companies that support those goals, that are into sustainability. Those are sometimes very big, good companies, that have that mindset to do that.”
Many are wondering what impact COVID will have on the project.
Dan Ramos noted that the COVID situation has not impacted their interest in moving forward with the project and, if anything, they are starting to see evidence that people in Davis believe this project is even more important because of the economic uncertainty.
“We like this thing coming out of COVID,” he said.
The timing of when this could conceivably come online is also important. Dan Ramos pointed out even if the project were to get approved by the voters in November, all of the engineering and approvals will take several years.
“We’re going to be well beyond recovery time to be able to launch at the right time,” he said. He noted that there are going to be a lo of opportunities going forward. “We’ve seen the tech community has really done well through this… We are a great extension of a place to come locate to continue their efforts.
“We’re really bullish,” he said. “We see it with the proximity to the university.” He noted that many companies love to tap into the university and they are in a prime position to do just that.
“That’s why the location works,” he said. “Davis has a chance to really take advantage of the rebound and be a real leader out there.”
A big question that is constantly raised is what the commercial demand is like.
Dan Ramos pointed to the existing inventory of commercial sites. For instance, he has property throughout town, especially along Second as well as Mace, and he said pretty much all of that is leased up.
“The vacancies are less than five percent of our existing product,” he said. He said there is a really good company that is in Davis that will be moving to the Nugget site—though he cannot formally announce it just yet. “That’s going to gobble up a lot of our space. We’re down to about 10,000 in all of our inventory in Davis.
“We are out of space and we’re out of land also,” he said, noting that the Nugget corporate headquarters was the last of their space.
The news out of Aggie Square also seems positive.
Dan Ramos noted that they are largely medical-based, “and we’re a lot broader in terms of what we want to be able to attract here.
“This advance manufacturing … the ability to take some of the technology and not only have the R&D facilities but to be able to manufacture high end products,” he said, and this is high-end stuff—computers and nano-technology, “if they can manufacture… those are big wins for Davis in the sales tax if they sell from that site.”
There have been concerns that the employees working at the site will create a new demand for the housing. As the SEIR notes, the project will have 850 on-site units, it will create a demand for 1200 or so in Davis that are off-site and another 1700 or so that commute from out of town.
Some are worried that this means this will create an additional demand for housing, but Dan Ramos believes that the housing demand, given the gradual build out over a period of years if not decades, will be subsumed within the normal course of housing in the coming housing element processes.
Dan Ramos noted the new downtown plan will give Davis the ability “to densify the downtown.
“I think there is going to be a reboot at looking at the General Plan,” he said, and that will give Davis an opportunity to look at housing that stays within their space limitations.
But he also pointed out that “hopefully it will be an employment center for some of the existing people that live in Davis who commute out of Davis.” Right now, if you don’t work at the university or a few companies around town, for high quality jobs you are headed out of town to Sacramento, Roseville or even all the way to the Bay Area.
“Hopefully we can help provide some job opportunities for some of the people who are commuting out of town right now,” he said. “Those jobs aren’t (in Davis) so they’re commuting away.”
He believes this would help the university “in supporting their mission,” helping to create a good quality of life to support the university when they recruit.
“We want to be able to answer the question—when a company comes in, where do my people live?” he said. “We’re not going to be able to supply housing for the entire thing there but I believe the way we set it up that we have a really good opportunity to match up these jobs to this housing.”
He also pointed out, “We have to build quite a bit of commercial space before we can build our first 100 (housing) units.” It is one unit for every two thousand feet of commercial space.
Typically, he explained, housing can help finance a project like this. But they are actually not doing it that way.
“Housing can get built faster and absorbed faster and therefore take on a bigger burden of infrastructure costs in return for it,” he said.
But that’s not what they did in this project.
By phasing the housing, they actually delayed the build out potential by committing to build commercial space first.
“We understood that was an issue up front and we wanted to try our best to match it up,” he said. When you do it the other way, “you can build it, sell it, absorb it and pay for infrastructure faster.”
Dan Ramos said that soon their baseline features, which they have been negotiating, will be out.
“We will be committing a significant amount of affordable housing—more than anyone has ever committed to in the city,” he said. “We are going to commit to building a significant amount of that on site.” He said, “We’ve heard loud and clear that that’s an important part of what we do.” He said that will be in the baseline features.
One of the big questions is whether UC Davis will support the project—which some see as make or break for its ultimate success.
“We are in talks with them,” he said. “Yes, I believe some kind of commitment to support from them (will come) in some kind of formal fashion.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting