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On Thursday, Feb. 27, the University of Arizona broke ground on The Refinery, the first building at UA’s Tech Park at The Bridges. The Refinery will be four-stories and 120,000 square feet, and is expected to serve as an example of the technology-driven workspace found at the Tech Park at The Bridges. The building is planned to be completed in summer 2021.

“This will be a place for innovators to take advantage of our established programming, and work in a new environment with state of the art resources,” said Eric Smith, executive director for the UA Center for Innovation, at the groundbreaking. “This will also be a place for entrepreneurs to meet with other entrepreneurs, as well as those in established companies. These collisions will create opportunities for learning and entrepreneurial thinking. Those who choose to learn and work here at The Bridges will certainly be supported.” 

UA has committed 50 percent of The Refinery’s space for commercialization and innovation of small-to-midsize tech-focused businesses. Activities housed at The Refinery will include the UA Applied Research Corporation, the UA’s cyberoperations program, new offices for Tech Launch Arizona, and space for students and faculty.

“What we have the opportunity to do, not only with a building like this, but with a location like this, is to accelerate the pace at which research has impact,” said Betsy Cantwell, senior vice president for research and innovation at UA. “So for us that’s meaningful; it’s meaningful for our students who want to participate in an institution that has impact; it’s meaningful for our faculty who more and more want to do research that has impact. They do not want to occupy their ivory tower, they do not want to look at a narrow problem for their entire career. They want to have the opportunity to have impact. And this is the place where that will happen.” 

The Refinery is part of the 20-acre “Technology Zone” within the 65-acre Tech Park at The Bridges. Long-term development plans for the Technology Zone include up to five office and lab buildings for public, private and academic users. Other Tech Park zones are the University Zone, which will house academic “centers of excellence”; the Business Zone, designed for large technology companies; and the Corporate Zone, which allows corporations to become anchor tenants of the tech park.  

UA’s Tech Park itself is part of the larger 350-acre mixed-use development project that includes a Costco, Walmart and Cinemark movie theater. 

City council member Richard Fimbres described this expansion as part of the ongoing “Renaissance of the South side.”

“Today, with this groundbreaking, we now have all aspects of the Tucson Marketplace at The Bridges under construction,” Fimbres said. 

Fimbres also highlighted the benefit of Tech Park at The Bridges’ location, being roughly three miles from the UA campus, as well as a five-minute drive from downtown and a five-minute drive from the Tucson airport.  

In addition to The Refinery’s groundbreaking, UA also announced the street names throughout the Tech Park at The Bridges. Catalyst Drive will be the main passage through the park, with streets like “Tomorrow” and “Innovate” branching throughout. The Refinery will be located at the corner of Idea Street and Catalyst Drive. 

“I’ve been in a lot of communities where the innovation ecosystem is just beginning to bubble up, and I will say, in my estimation, that’s exactly what’s happening in Tucson right now,” Cantwell said. 

For the UA, and the Tucson community in general, the Tech Park at The Bridges is a long time coming. UA sought partial funding for the development via an economic development proposition in 2015, which ultimately failed. Construction is now overseen by UA’s development partner The Boyer Company, which is headquartered in Salt Lake City and also maintains an office in Phoenix.

“We see this new park as another catalyst and driver for university-based economic development in the region, a place where new ideas are incubated and businesses are formed, a place where university innovation can move at the speed of business,” said Carol Stewart, associate vice president for Tech Parks Arizona.

The Tech Park at The Bridges’ long-term plan calls for 1.8 million square feet of “developed office and laboratory space” that could support between 7,000 to 10,000 employees.

“This is going to be the catalyst that helps put us on the map to simply make the world a better place,” said UA president Robert C. Robbins. “We have to have great professors, we have to have fundamental discovery, and investment and basic science, but not stop there, to transplant those discoveries into commercializable products and companies to build our economy. It’s part of our responsibility as the University of Arizona.”