With two multi-million-dollar projects on the horizon, Innovation Square is quickly moving from concept to reality.
Trimark Properties plans to build both an eight-story incubator and a specialized dorm for entrepreneurial students, helping the University of Florida and community leaders realize their vision of creating a unique work-live-play community in the heart of Gainesville.
Trimark will start construction on the Infusion Technology Center, a 120,000-square-foot building for science and technology companies, late this year. Then at the end of next year, it will begin work on the dorm.
These buildings, adjacent to the Florida Innovation Hub that UF is completing, demonstrate the viability of the vision of a private-public partnership along Southwest Second Avenue, says Ed Poppell, UF’s vice president for administrative affairs.
The newly formed UF Development Corp. is leasing the property for the new buildings to Trimark. “The buildings themselves will be on the tax rolls and will boost the local economy,” Poppell says.
Just how much impact the buildings will have on the tax rolls isn’t clear at this point, as John Fleming, Trimark’s managing partner, declined to discuss costs. But if the 120,000-square-foot Infusion Center bills out at the same rate per square foot as UF’s $13.2 million Innovation Hub, the Infusion Center could be valued at as much as $35 million.
Trimark, a major provider of student apartments in the area, is confident that its investments will pay off. “There’s nothing that will match [Innovation Square] nationwide to my knowledge,” Fleming says.
Many top-tier universities have research parks, but they’re generally on sprawling sites remote from the main campus and the community, he says. Georgia Tech in Atlanta is an exception. It has helped develop a mixed-use model community next to campus that features buildings for emerging innovation companies, along with apartments, condos, stores and restaurants.
But a couple things make Gainesville’s Innovation Square one-of-a-kind, Fleming says.
First, no other university has 40 acres of cleared or under-utilized land accumulated for this type of development.
Second, UF is one of the top universities in its ability to produce innovative companies, Fleming says. “We have research being commercialized in medicine, engineering, aviation, digital arts and much more,” he says.
When UF President Bernie Machen announced Innovation Square in November, he said the build-out eventually would create 1 million square feet of space. Fleming thinks that figure is low. He calculates 3.5 million square feet for build-out of the total project area, which includes UF, Shands and Trimark properties.
“That’s three and a half Oaks Malls in size,” he says.
Designed to Keep Business in Town
During the past eight years, an average of 13 new companies have spun off UF research each year, says Poppell. Unfortunately, some of those innovative businesses ended up leaving town because they reached a point where either they needed to expand or they became attractive acquisitions for bigger companies.
Fleming hopes the Infusion Center will help “stop the bleeding.”
“We want to give them a reason to stay,” he says.
Poppell agrees that’s an important goal. “We’ve got to keep them,” he says. “Right now, there’s no good place for them to go as they grow.”
The eight-story Infusion Center will be one of the tallest buildings in Gainesville. It will provide space for research, product development and offices for companies that need 2,000 to 10,000 square feet of space to continue to grow.
The tenants may be start-ups that are moving over from UF’s Innovation Hub, which will be connected to the Infusion Center by a walkway, or they may come from another local incubator, Fleming says.
Local companies have shown great interest in the new project, although none have yet committed to move there, Fleming says.
He expects good occupancy by the time the building opens in a year and a half.
UF will offer space in the Ayers Medical Plaza, located north of Southwest Second Avenue, to companies that need space right away or that may not be able to afford space in the Infusion Center once it opens.
Entrepreneurial Living/Learning Community
Many colleges and universities have specialized learning communities, including the University of Florida, but seldom are they designed and constructed from the ground up.
The new residence hall for entrepreneurial students that Trimark is building in cooperation with UF will be unique in that sense,” Fleming says.
The building is expected to open for the fall semester of 2013.
Trimark is working with UF to screen residents based on their seriousness about creating innovative companies. “You’re going to have to earn your way in,” Fleming says.
He hopes residents will mesh. “When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re probably not going to be a partier or a gamer. We want a place where there’s not a lot of static.”
The new building will have two to three suites available on the top floor for visiting VIPs, including owners of innovative companies, researchers and authors.
“I want to say to UF that these folks can use the space for a couple days while they’re in town as long as they’re willing to talk with our residents for a couple hours.”
Similar arrangements have worked at other universities, Fleming says. “Once the visitors get talking with the kids, it’s hard to get them to leave,” he says.
Trimark and UF representatives plan to visit similar projects at Oklahoma State University and the University of Maryland–College Park, which are among 11 living and learning communities nationwide with an entrepreneurial component, says Norbert Dunkel, a UF assistant vice president and director of housing and residence education.
The UF project will become the best entrepreneurship-based living and learning community in the country, Dunkel says.
“We’ll incorporate the best possible elements and populate it with the brightest and most innovative students in an environment close to the heartbeat of research,” he says. “The students will live an academic experience that reflects the business community.”
A Decade of Preparation
The emergence of Innovation Square culminates 10 years of low-profile work by Trimark, UF and the Council for Economic Outreach, an arm of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Trimark, which has about 1,000 apartment units in small complexes in University Heights, noticed that property was becoming available around the Shands at AGH site. “It was clear that doctors were leaving the hospital and that the building wasn’t healthy,” Fleming says.
So, Trimark decided to buy as much property as possible in the area. “We wanted to be sure that we had a seat at the table before anything was done,” Fleming says.
He credits Shands HealthCare and UF officials with taking a far-sighted view of what would become of the AGH property once they decided to close the hospital. “They just didn’t turn it over to a developer,” he says. “They kept involved and collaborated with the community.”
Fleming has traveled across the country on trips organized by the chamber to see how other university towns were collaborating on town-gown developments.
In deciding on an architectural firm for its new Innovation Square projects, Trimark considered three firms with related experience. It ended up hiring Flad & Associates, which has done similar projects in Madison, Wis., where it’s headquartered, and in other college towns. A bonus was that Flad has a Gainesville office.
Moving Beyond Growth to Higher Quality
With enrollment at UF flattening, developing Innovation Square is important for Gainesville, Fleming says.
“We all need to focus on more quality, not just quantity [of new students], to drive the Gainesville economy,” he says.
Innovation Square will attract top researchers and entrepreneurs, Fleming predicts, and that is sure to lead to jobs. “Every PhD or company executive can create 10 jobs all across the economy, from lab rats to parking lot attendants,” he says.