UNC Carolina North: How Innovative the First Step?

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

I’ve said I understand why UNC feels compelled to push forward it plans for the Carolina North Innovation Center but I still want to see a master plan that incorporates this project, its supplementary infrastructure and the results of the on-going transit, fiscal equity and environmental studies before one concrete block is laid.

Timing is important as is soliciting continued community input.

My hope is that UNC, the three local government entities, other local stakeholders and the wider community will use the Innovation Center approval process as an opportunity to create a structured framework for further sustained negotiations on Carolina North. While committees like the Horace-Williams Citizens group have helped define some of the principles we want to see the project adhere to, an intermittent process, whose existence is subject to the whims of the Mayor, will not serve our citizens well.

From the outset, we need to create a flexible framework for open and inclusive discussions on Carolina North. As opportunities and obstacles arise over the first fifteen years of Carolina North’s development, how else will we address these challenges?

UNC is giving the community a chance to meet with both their staff and that of their developers, Alexandria Real Estate Equities (whose on-line presence could use a serious upgrade) to see how innovative their cornerstone project – the Innovation Center – will be.

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The University and Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. are planning the Carolina Innovation Center on the Carolina North property at the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and the former Municipal Drive. The Innovation Center will provide an environment where innovation-based companies affiliated with the University can turn laboratory concepts into viable businesses.

The design process for this building is in its early stages. I hope that you can join us on Thursday evening, November 29, from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. at the Robert and Pearl Seymour Center at 2551 Homestead Road for a community meeting on the Innovation Center. Representatives from UNC, Alexandria and the architect for the building will present preliminary sketches of the building design.

We have submitted a concept plan for the Innovation Center to the Town of Chapel Hill. The Town Council is currently scheduled to consider that concept plan at its January 23, 2008 meeting.

We look forward to meeting with neighbors and community members to answer your questions and to listen to your ideas. You can learn more about the Innovation Center in an article from the University Gazette here .

We hope to see you on November 29. As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions. If you are a neighborhood or community contact, please forward this to your group or others who may be interested.

Best,

Linda

Linda Convissor, Director of Local Relations
Office of University Relations
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Linda_Convissor@unc.edu
CB# 6225
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-6225
919-962-9245
919-843-5966 (fax)

Carolina Innovation Center: Alexandria Equities, the Citizens Partner?

Friday, July 27th, 2007

At yesterday’s UNC Board of Trustees meeting, the Carolina Innovation Center took center stage when Carolina North’s quarterback Jack Evans confirmed it as the first step in Carolina North’s development.

The center will be sited upon the recently vacated Chapel Hill municipal facility.

Jack has written a Sunday column for the Chapel Hill News, a sneak peek which has been published on their OrangeChat ‘blog.

I will be responding to his Q&A in more detail once the column is published.

As part of preparing to respond, I was doing background research on Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc., the private partner in this private-public partnership. Alexandria, as this Triangle Business Journal report notes will OWN and manage the facility.

What kind of partner in this public endeavor would Alexandria be?

If their website is any indication, not so open:

TERMS OF USE

The www.labspace.com World Wide Web site (the “Site”) is a copyrighted work belonging to Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. (“Alexandria”) and its suppliers. Alexandria grants you the right to access and use the Site subject to the following terms and conditions (the “Terms of Use”). PLEASE READ THE TERMS OF USE CAREFULLY. BY ACCESSING THE SITE, YOU AGREE TO BE BOUND BY THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS BELOW. IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO BE BOUND BY THESE TERMS AND CONDITIONS, YOU MAY NOT ACCESS OR USE THIS SITE.

The FIRST thing one sees on the company’s website, http://www.labspace.com/, is their TERMS OF SERVICE asking you to bind yourself to their conditions.

If you read through the 1182 words, agree to the 12 legal clauses, you’re allowed in, bound, I guess, in virtual chains forged of legalese.

I’ve used the Internet before there was an Internet. I’ve learned a few things surfing the Web.

One thing I’ve learned? A company that throws legalistic mumbo-jumbo in your face and demands your acquiescence before entry is either woefully over-staffed with paranoid legal talent, in some kind of trouble, been burned by bad PR, has no sense of customer service or some kind of witches brew of all those reasons and more.

Maybe Alexandria just needs a ticket on the Cluetrain express?

Yes, there could be quite legitimate reasons for raising the Web wall but, at least based on this not so friendly “Howdy Do”, I have to wonder what kind of partner Alexandria will be….

Carolina North: Not So Innovative Location for the Innovation Center?

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

As I predicted (“Carolina North: What’s Next?”) last week, the Carrboro Citizen is reporting that UNC is prepared to move the Carolina North Innovation Center north of Estes to sit roughly on the Town’s former municipal services site.

Not a hard guess given UNC’s Jack Evans recent comments.

…one indication that the university is intent on the timetable is a related matter on the trustees agenda — the shift of a proposed site for an 80,000-square-foot Innovation Center from the south side of Estes Drive Extension to an area just off Municipal Drive near the Town of Chapel Hill’s former Public Works facility.

Earlier this month, Jack Evans, Carolina North’s executive director, said that the area would likely be in the very first phases of construction. In addition to being already cleared and served by utilities, the site also avoids a potential conflict over the closing of Horace Williams Airport. University officials have said they’d like to close the airport as soon as a new facility is ready for its Medical Air operations. But that idea has met resistance in the North Carolina General Assembly.

While the first 15-year phase of the Carolina North plans include using sections of the current airport runway near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the site for the innovations center is out of the way of the airport approach.

At the last community outreach session, the reported [PDF] size of the facility was 85,000 square/feet not 80,000 as the CarrboroCitizen reports. I’m not sure if there’s been a shift.



Click to Enlarge


What is the Carolina Innovation Center?

The Triangle Business Journal had this nice overview published May 18, 2007:

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is working with a high-profile West Coast developer to build a business incubator near its proposed Carolina North campus that could put the university back in the market for venture capital.

Preliminary discussions between UNC officials and Pasadena, Calif.-based Alexandria Real Estate Equities have yielded a model for the proposed “Carolina Innovation Center” that would provide more than just office space for university spinoffs.

Alexandria CEO Joel Marcus says the center would round out traditional incubator resources such as office and laboratory space with on-site business and managerial experts and a cadre of investors ranging from local and national venture firms to the university itself.

In short, the Alexandria-owned facility[emph. CW] would act as a one-stop clearinghouse capable of matching top technology prospects flowing out of UNC’s research departments with the financial backing and expertise needed to keep a startup alive.

The UNC center would be modeled in large part on Accelerator Corp., a biotech incubator in Seattle completed by Alexandria in 2003. The private biotech development and investment incubator has attracted nearly $22 million in venture capital from blue chip investors such as Amgen Ventures, MPM Capital and Arch Venture Partners. So far, Accelerator Corp. has invested in five emerging biotech firms.

Mark Crowell, associate vice chancellor for business development and technology transfer at UNC, says the venture capital component of the Carolina Innovation Center could total as much as $25 million and would not be limited to life sciences startups. Pending receipt of a special use permit from the town of Chapel Hill to construct the incubator facility, Crowell says UNC could begin “paying visits” to potential investors as early as this fall.

“At the end of the day, we would like to go to four, five, six institutional investors, as well as make a presentation to (UNC’s endowment) management company” says Crowell. “I can’t imagine we wouldn’t visit every local fund.”

Crowell goes on to say

“This project is going to make a sound and create a smell that is going to be attractive to the venture capitalists,” he says. “It is an incredibly attractive way to introduce Carolina North to the community, and it’s really starting to gain momentum.”

Of course, the sounds and smells nearby neighborhoods are concerned with are not so attractive as the lure of big money is too UNC’s venture capital specialists.

I wonder if getting anywhere on Carolina North seems harder than running a sub 4-minute mile for former world record holder and current UNC vice chancellor for research and economic development Tony Waldrop:

Corporate funds are vital to filling the gap, but, with neither an incubator facility nor a research campus similar to NCSU’s Centennial Campus, those dollars are difficult to come by, says Tony Waldrop, UNC’s vice chancellor for research and economic development.

“Seventy percent of campuses have either a research park campus or an incubator, and here we are without either. It puts us at a disadvantage,” Waldrop says. “In terms of getting federal funding from the corporate sector for research, we have not competed with our peers.”

Centennial Campus envy once again?

Tomorrow’s UNC Board of Trustees’ meeting starts 8am at the Carolina Inn: floor plan and map.

The BOT agenda is here.

The Carolina North draft concept plan is item #8 on the following agenda.
(more…)

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