University research park plan revisited

The 1.6 million-square-foot facility would replace an industrial site in Prospect Park.

University research park plan revisited

Kelsey Shirriff

 

Large, modern laboratories may soon replace the grain elevators and railroad equipment in Prospect Park.

Developers and the University of Minnesota administration have long discussed the possibility of turning the area into a research park that combines private and public interests. The idea is now getting a fresh look after being shelved during the economic slowdown.

“Certainly the University of Minnesota is the powerhouse of research,” said Eileen Walker, chief executive officer for the Association of University Research Parks.

A partnership between the University, the state government and the private sector could be valuable, she said.

At least nine schools in the Big Ten have a research park, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is currently building one.

Wall Companies owns the site in Prospect Park where it hopes to build the Minnesota Innovation Center. The Wall Cos. has partnered with LifeScience Alley and the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota to develop the project.

The proposed project would eventually consist of 16 buildings and 1.6 million square feet of laboratories and work space, according to the Minnesota Innovation Center’s website.

University officials will meet with developers to discuss a new proposal in early April, said Matt Hodson, a University spokesman.

“It is a top priority for the University to further and enhance our University-industry partnerships,” Hodson said.

The University would not comment further, he said.

Research parks are long-term investments that are not constructed for short-term gain, Walker said, which can make development challenging.

“It does take time. It’s a big deal,” she said. “They’re usually very complex to set up because university research is something that’s pretty complex.”

The University of Wisconsin-Madison built its research park in 1984.

“We’ve been around almost 30 years, so it’s a very long, deliberative process,” said Greg Hyer, the associate director of Madison’s University Research Park. “So success doesn’t come quickly and early.”

There are many advantages for students, faculty and the neighborhood, Hyer said. Researchers at the Madison park have access to university databases and equipment and vice versa.

Students at UW-Madison have gotten internships and jobs through the research park there, Hyer said.

“It helps [to lead] the university down a path for creating an entrepreneurial culture for faculty and students,” he said.

Research parks also have economic benefits, said Wall Cos. President John Wall.

“The whole thing just kind of snowballs,” he said. “You get more jobs that bring in more people and other companies that need to serve the people that are there. It helps the restaurants. It helps other service companies.”

The project could kickstart activity in Prospect Park, where Surly Brewing Company is also planning a new brewery.

“I think it’s something that everyone’s pretty excited about, the possibility of it being a destination and sort of bringing people there,” said Haila Maze, a senior city planner for the city of Minneapolis. “So we’re kind of enthused. We’ll see how it moves forward.”