280-acre parcel gives Progress Park room to grow

The Progress One building is shown in the background at the Progress Corporate Park in Alachua on Friday. Property next to Progress Corporate Park has been approved to be a corporate park built by the UF Foundation.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, January 6, 2012 at 6:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 6, 2012 at 6:30 p.m.

At one end of the economic development spectrum, the Innovation Hub and surrounding Innovation Square near downtown Gainesville are being developed as a place for the small tech companies spinning out of the University of Florida and related service providers to get established and grow in an urban office setting.

On the other end, UF and the city of Alachua are on the verge of establishing a 280-acre corporate park that could accommodate companies needing large buildings and a lot of land as the adjacent 200-acre Progress Corporate Park runs out of large parcels.

A large piece of land preapproved for development has been the missing piece of what's available in Alachua County to offer companies looking to expand or relocate, say those involved in the project.

"It's actually dovetailing nicely with what we're doing at Innovation Square," said Bruce Delaney, who is in charge of real estate for the UF Foundation, which owns the property that currently is being used for farming.

"This allows us to have every real estate product available, whether an eight-story building or a 40-acre site."

Organizers already are working with two potential prospects to locate in the park.

One, Nanotherapeutics, graduated from the UF Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator in Progress Park and now occupies most of a nearby building with hopes of one day building its own manufacturing facility.

The other prospect would come from outside the community, said David Ramsey, director of economic development for the Council for Economic Outreach.

Even if neither deal comes to fruition, the park will be ready when one does.

"We're always chasing things," Delaney said.

"We might go five years and not have anything. We might have two pop up right away. Who knows?" he said.

The Alachua City Commission is scheduled to vote at its Jan. 23 meeting on the second and final reading of comprehensive-plan and zoning changes to establish the corporate park.

The commission unanimously approved the changes on first reading in November and sent them to the state Department of Economic Opportunity, which responded in a Dec. 22 letter that it had no objections.

The UF Foundation land is south of Progress Corporate Park and the Hidden Meadows subdivision, west of San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park, north of Shaw Farms and east of County Road 241.

The land use and zoning would allow office/business parks, biotechnology and other technologies, business incubators, a limited amount of retail sales and services, single-family and multi-family residential, building industry uses and accessory storage facilities.

The changes also establish a medical radioisotope laboratory land use. Delaney said that was included because it is one of many types of uses he has pursued for UF land in the past that was not already covered by permitted uses.

The only thing drawn up so far is a road to connect Progress Corporate Park to CR 241, he said.

UF bought the land in the early 1980s as part of a purchase that included Progress Corporate Park to provide a place for UF technology projects and private startup companies.

UF partnered with developers on Progress Corporate Park while holding the new corporate park in reserve for large uses.

Development on Progress Park began in 1987, and in the first 10 years the 59,000-square-foot Progress Center, UF's large animal facility and the biotech incubator were built.

The land use was amended in 1999 to allow light industrial, general office, retail, hotel and other uses. Development accelerated after local real estate investors doing business as Innovation Partners purchased the park that year.

"Over the years, there's been some interest in big companies building larger, 200,000-square-feet-or-bigger buildings, and we didn't have any room," said Jim Shaw of Innovation Partners.

He said it would be hard to say what big companies Alachua County might have missed out on because the county wouldn't have been in the final running.

"I think we got eliminated early on because there wasn't anything for them," Shaw said.

Progress Park now has 18 buildings with 30 companies employing 1,200 people, 80 percent of whom work for companies that spun out of UF. Many of those are in the biotech field, including about 450 at the RTI Biologics headquarters.

The park also includes medical supply and software companies and corporate offices. Last year, the National Center for Construction Education and Research opened a 30,000-square-foot building.

Several years ago, Innovation Partners sold off parcels fronting U.S. 441 to developers who plan to build a bank and restaurants. Last year, it sold its four buildings and remaining 50 acres of vacant parcels to SNH Medical Office Properties Trust, a Boston-based publicly traded real estate investment trust.

Patti Breedlove is assistant director of the biotech incubator. After UF sat on the 280-acre parcel for 30 years, she said the impetus to prepare it for development came in a conversation two years ago with RTI CEO Brian Hutchison.

"He was telling me if a company the size of RTI came to Progress Park today, there's not enough contiguous space to put them," she said.

That was during the recession when there was a lot of talk about being shovel-ready, she said.

"It made sense for us to try to bring together the necessary groups to start working on getting that land closer to shovel-ready so our larger community didn't miss out on an opportunity if a company did come to town that needed a larger space," Breedlove said.

Delaney said the timing couldn't be better, with momentum building behind economic development efforts such as the broad community support behind Innovation Gainesville.

"That's why we're doing it," he said. "We've finally reached a critical mass — 1,200 jobs at the Progress Center. We've got all this energy and effort. I've never seen the town-gown relationships better."

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