A freshwater spring percolates over a one-block, daylighted stretch as an open creek alongside Spring Street in Athens, Georgia. Historically known as the town spring and the founders’ spring, the natural watercourse was one of the most important ecological factors in locating the University of Georgia (UGA) here more than two centuries ago – the birthplace of public higher education in America.
Swipe to today and, situated directly across from the spring, a to-be-repurposed building perks up to source the physical implementation of UGA’s Innovation District. A $4.4 million renovation, of what was formerly known as UGA’s Business Service Annex, will energize the university’s all-in push for an innovation district.
Place-based innovation districts funnel products, services, ideas and technologies to markets. The Brookings Institution, a public policy organization with an early handle on this trend, defined innovation districts as “geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. Districts are also physically compact, transit-accessible, and offer mixed-use housing, office and retail.”
University of Georgia President Jere W. Morehead said recently in UGA Today about the now-known-as Spring Street Building, “This exciting project will provide a unique space at the heart of North Campus and downtown Athens, where faculty, students, industry partners and community members can collaborate, innovate and develop solutions to real-world problems.”
The Innovation District Initiative
During his 2018 State of the University address, President Morehead announced the initiative to develop plans for an innovation district at UGA. His presidential task force studied it and concurred that the university must strengthen its innovation ecosystem “to continue its rise as a premier national and international research university.”
UGA’s annual economic impact in the state is now estimated at a record-high $6.3 billion. Its research enterprise is indeed on the rise, as total research and development expenditures rose to $453 million in 2018, an increase of 30% percent over five years. Of course, Georgia’s reach and commitment stretches beyond state lines.
Two tell-tale signs of UGA’s upsurge in the commercialization of research and technology: Georgia just took first place out of 193 institutions for the number of commercial products reaching the marketplace; and fourth place for the number of new intellectual property licenses executed to industry, according to a survey by AUTM.
Since 2015, 250 products based on UGA research have reached the market, and 40 startups have been incorporated. For the fifth consecutive year, Georgia ranked in the top five among universities in the U.S. for accelerating products into the marketplace. Market sectors served include agriculture, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, software and scientific services.
The University of Georgia’s President’s Office, the Innovation Gateway, the Entrepreneurship Program, the New Media Institute and the Small Business Development Center, among other stakeholders, are striving for the innovation district to be strategically cohesive, coordinated and interactive for a unified ecosystem.
With his 2019 address, President Morehead connected the dots, saying that UGA’s Innovation District would draw more industry partners to the campus in Athens, “to collaborate with our talented faculty and students on commercial projects, and it would create unique internship and research opportunities for our students, ensuring they remain competitive in our knowledge-based economy. Thinking beyond convention would be the hallmark of the district, generating breakthrough ideas and novel solutions.”
To support the innovation district, both repurposed and new construction facilities in UGA’s real estate portfolio will combine space and amenities for a campus of the future. The Spring Street Building is the second property in the district and is currently in the design phase, with renovation anticipated for a 2021 completion date. Its adaptive reuse is complemented by the first building repurposed under the initiative, the Student Center for Entrepreneurship on West Broad Street.
“The Spring Street Building will be transformed into a welcoming and energetic hub of creativity, collaboration and entrepreneurship — a place where good ideas are born and nurtured to impact,” said Kyle Tschepikow, special assistant to the president and director for strategy and innovation.
Built in the 1940s, by a seed company to function as a processing plant and warehouse, the facility was purchased by the university in 1968, an ideal location one block off East Broad Street. Here for the past 50 years, UGA’s Central Duplicating Service worked reliably behind-the-scenes providing copying and binding services to support the transfer of knowledge to university students. By 2009, Central Duplicating produced its 1 billionth unit in the building. After merging with University Printing to form Bulldog Print and Design, and later relocated to another university site, the building was utilized as temporary space for UGA’s Disability Resource Center while its facility was renovated. The vacancy presented a huge opportunity to sprout the UGA Innovation District in earnest.
Repurposing the building and the seven-tenths of an acre lot will include extensive exterior upgrades, including a new roof and skylights, window restoration and new accessible parking with an accessible route through an entry plaza. Mechanical systems will be replaced along with new lighting and a fire sprinkler system. The interior will be reconfigured and the bow-truss ceiling structure will be exposed. Flexible space programming will allow for reconfigurable layouts for presentations and large meetings, as well as for small-team breakouts.
The University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents approved the renovation plan. UGA’s Division of Development and Alumni Relations is leading the fundraising campaign for the Spring Street Building.
Tschepikow noted, “Whether you are a faculty member building a startup company, a student seeking experiential learning opportunities, or an industry partner searching for solutions to a pressing business challenge, the Spring Street Building will be a place you can go to find direction and support.”
The Spring Street Building in UGA’s Innovation District is set to become an original source beside an original source.