Research Park board to discuss developer for expansion

A board that oversees the University of Illinois Research Park is closer to a decision on who will take on the park's expansion, but that decision is not likely to happen at the board's meeting this week.

The research park's board of managers will meet Monday in Chicago to discuss the selection of the developer for the park, slated to expand onto land south of St. Mary's Road and the I Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign. That discussion is likely to be a closed session.

The research park began in 2000 when the UI chose Fox/Atkins as the developer. In the last decade, the park has grown to include a dozen buildings on 40 acres west of First Street, plus the hotel and conference center east of First Street. It's home to everything from corporate research centers to UI faculty-affiliated tech startups, university offices and a child-care center.

"We're moving across First Street," said board of managers chair and UI trustee Ed McMillan. "Our intent is to continue on the program we've had in the past: building facilities and bringing in companies. ... It'll be a similar expansion of what we had" west of First Street, he said.

The university arrived at two finalists after issuing a request for proposals from developers last fall. Three firms responded and the UI invited the finalists – Fox/Atkins of Champaign and Atlanta, Ga.-based real estate firm Carter – to make presentations to the board of managers in March.

The search was prompted by the UI's 10-year development agreement with Fox/Atkins expiring at the end of May. Under that agreement, the university leased individual parcels of land to Fox/Atkins, who then built the buildings. The university owns the land; Fox/Atkins is responsible for maintaining the buildings and filling them with tenants.

Fox/Atkins' most recent project for the park was building a new research facility for Littelfuse, which makes circuit protection products, at 2110 S. Oak St., C.

At the March meeting, Fox/Atkins and Carter presented the board with information about their firms' experience and ideas for the park. And they fielded questions such as how best to market the UI's research park. McMillan said the board has sent additional questions to the two candidates.

"We want to end with a developer who really will help foster the growth of the park and create jobs," said Avijit Ghosh, the UI's vice president of technology and economic development. His office oversees the park. On Monday he expects the board to be asking among themselves "who (among the developers) is in the best position to reach those goals?"

The university had planned to have a developer chosen by May.

"The board expects to make a decision pretty soon," Ghosh said. But he said he does not anticipate a decision at the Monday meeting. The board may hold a special meeting before its next regularly scheduled one in October.

The board of managers will forward its recommendation to the UI Board of Trustees, which has the final say on who will be the developer and will ultimately approve the development contract. Trustees will meet next in July, and after that in September.

One thing for sure is "we don't want to be without an agreement for long," Ghosh said.

Although the agreement with Fox/Atkins expired last month, a temporary one is not needed because no new building activity is planned for the park, at least not until the new development deal is struck, according to Ghosh.

Fox/Atkins will continue to manage the existing research park buildings that it built under the long-term lease deals it struck with the UI in recent years. The new development agreement, like the previous one, would be for a 10-year term.

The area slated for the expansion is on university land south of the hotel and conference center. About 700,000 square feet of space is planned to be added in the coming years. The new development would be built around the university's swine research facilities which are also south of the hotel.

"The reality is financially it's not viable (to relocate the swine facilities), so we'll work around it in the meantime," McMillan said.

The board will meet at 11 a.m. Monday in the Chicago Technology Park's Research Center Room 207, 2201 W. Campbell Park Dr., Chicago.

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