The University of Arizona Bio Park has roadways, water and sewer lines, natural gas, an electrical distribution system, and a telecommunications conduit but it has yet to attract a major bioscience company to be its first tenant.
So to help spur development, the UA is looking to broaden its focus beyond just the bioscience to include other research areas where the UA excels and to partner with a private developer to help with the development of the park.
The bio park was intended to be an urban campus with dense development and a location that allows companies to be closer to the center of Tucson, the main UA campus, three big hospitals and the airport. The 65-acre bio park, at 36th Street and Kino Parkway, is closer to campus than the East Side UA Tech Park. It is planned as a mixed-used development featuring bioscience companies, retail stores and residential housing.
However, while the north part of the development has major retailers, the UA-part of the park is still just an empty dirt lot only identifiable by a few large scattered signs.
“Certainly people drive by and wonder what’s going to happen there,” said David Allen, the Vice President of Tech Launch Arizona. “I think that many have said ‘Gee that’s not a success,’ but let’s put that in perspective.”
Allen also said the recession was a major roadblock to the park’s development and though there are yet to be any buildings in place, the UA was able to secure a federal grant for the infrastructure construction and the school is paying very little to maintain the land. The site is in an ideal location for interaction with the university, he added.
“The fact that there hasn’t been development to date at the bio park is not a statement of failure,” said Bruce Wright, Associate Vice President of Tech Parks Arizona. “We acquired the land and began the development process only to find ourselves and the rest of the world in the great recession of 2008 and very few companies were expanding or growing,”
After an intensive review of different off-campus UA sites, the UA decided to broaden the focus of the bio park.
“We came to the conclusion that just a focus on bio science was very limited and we decided that we were going to open up the technology to areas beyond bio science that are particularly strong research areas at the university,” Allen said.
This change in focus will also lead to a change of the park’s name, Wright said. He said he hopes to have the new name chosen by May 1 so they can launch a new aggressive business attraction program and campaign beginning in July.
ASU’s success working with real estate firm the Plaza Companies at the Skysong ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center has led the bio park to consider bringing in a private sector developer as a partner to help advance the development of the park.
Skysong is a public private partnership between ASU and several developers led by Plaza Companies, that has built a mixed-used 42-acre campus at Scottsdale and McDowell Roads in Scottsdale similar to what the UA Bio Park is intended to be. That project, which started in 2005, is now in its third phase of construction.
“We would draw upon (Plaza Companies) development expertise, their access to financing and potentially even their access to potential tenants,” Wright said. A decision won’t be made until mid-summer because Tech Launch needs to get approval from UA President Ann Weaver Hart and the Arizona Board of Regents.
Wright said he is optimistic that he will have increased opportunities to bring companies into the park as the economy improves.
“My hope would be that within the next 24 to 36 months that we would have a tenant or tenants there that will allow us to start putting buildings on site,” Wright said.
Tucson City Councilman Richard Fimbres, whose ward includes the bio park, said he's disappointed at how long it has taken to get the bio park going. However, he's encouraged by the pace of retail development at the site.
The bio park is a part of a larger project called The Bridges. Working with Retail West/Eastbourne Investment, and KB Home and Lennar Home’s joint venture 5151 East, the UA hopes to create an area with sophisticated office and laboratory space for bioscience companies, a region shopping center and residential development.
Costco and Walmart have already opened stores on the south side of the project along Interstate 10 and are known as the Tucson Marketplace at The Bridges. This is just the beginning of the retail portion in the area with future plans including more retail offerings and a movie theater complex.
"Costco and Walmart have been beneficial to our residents they needed stores close by and these have helped. Plus it has created jobs for many," Fimbres said.
"Costco was huge they build and once folks saw how successful they were then they came back to the table, Curacao then opened hiring 220 folks from our area. Costco not only hired a local construction company that put 200 folks to work building the Costco but then also hired individuals from Tucson to work there. Walmart also used local construction folks to build the store and also hired many of the neighborhood folks to work there. Mc Donald's, Mattress Firm, Sprint and two Hair Saloons are now there. We are expecting more retail to come in."
There are multiple ways the bio park is envisioned to interact with the university and the Tucson community.
For companies that come out of Tech Launch Arizona, the bio park hopes to offer a location for them to grow, develop their products and get out into the marketplace.
It will also be a location where university faculty and students can conduct research or enter into collaborative partnerships with companies. They also hope to provide students with internship opportunities at the companies that will be tenants.
“And finally of course is that the high quality companies in the park will provide employment opportunities for our graduates,” Wright said. “So that keeps the best and the brightest of our students here in Tucson and provides them with high quality, high wage jobs.”