Choice for next Research Park developer is weeks away

The selection of a developer for the next phase of the University of Illinois Research Park is not likely to happen for a couple more months.

The body overseeing the park, the Research Park Board of Managers, will meet at the I Hotel and Conference Center Monday in Champaign. The board is expected to talk in closed session about choosing a developer for the expansion of the private-public development, but will not vote on a recommendation.

"We're not at the point of declaring anybody as a developer yet," said Avijit Ghosh, the UI's Vice President of Technology and Economic Development, the office that manages the Champaign research park along with a similar park in Chicago. "We are still in the process of discussion," he said.

The board's agenda includes an executive session, followed by a review of the parks' budget, an update on research park activities and its tenants as well as road projects.

The research park south of campus is home to technology firms, start-up businesses related to the university as well as some UI offices. The office buildings are south of St. Mary's Road and west of First Street, save for the hotel and conference center which was built at the southeast corner of First and St. Mary's by the UI and Fox/Atkins.

The park began in 2000 when the university chose local development team Fox/Atkins. Under an agreement with the university, the developer leases the land from the university and builds, owns and markets the park's buildings. The land leases are for 50 years, but the development agreement between the UI and the company was for a 10-year term. It expired in May.

Last fall the university issued a request for proposals from companies interested in develop the next phase of the research park. The expansion entails building on land south of the hotel and conference center to Windsor Road and east to Fourth Street extended. Three firms responded to the request; two finalists were chosen. They include Fox/Atkins and real estate firm Carter of Atlanta, Ga. In the spring, both companies made presentations to the board. The board will recommend a developer to the UI Board of Trustees.

"We have had some conversations. I still think they're debating what the next step is," said current research park developer Peter Fox.

He has been focusing on filling office space in the park's Gateway Building, formerly home to Motorola. Qualcomm, which had offices on the first floor of the building, announced in late-August it was closing its offices there. Fox plans to move Abbott Laboratories there from its current home in the iCyt building in the park. The Gateway Building also has been used as additional space for conferences when the conference center is full, Fox said.

"We're making slow, steady progress," he said about filling the Gateway space. Fox has said the Gateway Building needs enough tenants in order to proceed with the Signature Building, a multi-tenant office building he envisions being built south of the I Hotel.

Among the issues board members are discussing about the next phase are the types of financial arrangements that would exist between the UI and the developer and what sort of financial obligations the developer would have, Ghosh said. Specifics will be discussed in executive session, he said.

"We want to do full diligence here," Ghosh said, adding that "there is no self-imposed timeline" on choosing the developer.

A decision may come in the next few months.

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