City government

Nishi land eyed for UCD hub

By March 2, 2011

Davis may have an answer to UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi’s call for regional “innovation hub” concepts.

Two words: Nishi property.

The Davis City Council voted unanimously at its meeting Tuesday night to begin drafting a proposal for the development of the 44-acre sliver of land on West Olive Drive. It is bounded by the railroad tracks to the west, Richards Boulevard to the north and Interstate 80 to the east.

The parcel is privately owned, but has been on the city’s radar for development for years. Its proximity to the downtown, university campus and the freeway make it an ideal “gateway” to Davis, according to the 2008 housing element update to the city’s General Plan.

Ken Hiatt, the city’s community development and sustainability director, said the property owners have expressed interest in the innovation hub idea.

An innovation hub is not precisely defined in Katehi’s request for proposals, which was announced in February, but the general concept is to have a place where the technologies and innovations from the minds at UCD can be spun into profitable commercial enterprises.

The location of an innovation hub could be virtual or a brick-and-mortar building.

Concept submissions, which are due March 31, will be evaluated based on their alignment with the university’s objectives:

* Advance regional economic prosperity through transfer of knowledge and technology from UCD to the marketplace;

* Lead the development of economy based in clean energy, life sciences and agriculture in Northern California;

* Deepen UCD’s connections to the regional, national and global business communities;

* Support culture of entrepreneurship to transform UCD research into for-profit enterprises; and

* Provide educational and networking opportunities for faculty, staff and students to develop and demonstrate the commercial value of their inventions.

Newly appointed Councilman Dan Wolk, who was sworn in at the start of the meeting, wanted to know if UCD has shown special interest in Davis over other applicants.

Hiatt said no, but Davis does have the home-field advantage.

The city is “uniquely poised to be the primary innovation hub for the UC Davis campus,” Hiatt said in his report to the City Council. He listed the city’s location, educated residents and policies supporting innovation as key assets that tip the scale in the Davis’ favor.

Although Davis may be competing with regional governments in landing the innovation hub, it is the urban community located nearest the UCD campus, Hiatt said. Davis also is home to many of the university’s employees, students, offices and support services, he said.

Additionally, the city’s educated, skilled workforce has strengths in biotechnology, energy, environmental, food and health industries, Hiatt said.

The city’s ongoing economic development efforts also demonstrate a commitment to innovation, he said. Current efforts include:

* Adoption of the Business Park Lands Strategy plan to maximize the use of vacant business park or industrial lands and buildings, study peripheral sites for business park development, and develop the downtown and Nishi property as an innovation district;

* Joint planning for the Nishi property area;

* Planning a public forum to discuss the downtown as an innovation hub, tentatively scheduled for March 31;

* Creating a task force to study peripheral sites for business park development; and

* Working to recruit high-tech companies such as Mori Seiki, the Japanese machine-tools manufacturer.

City staff plans to have the Nishi proposal ready for council approval on or before the March 29 meeting.

— Reach Crystal Lee at [email protected] or (530) 747-8057. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com

Crystal Lee

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