Plans to develop a research and office park on 13 acres of City of Gainesville-owned property along Hawthorne Road recently took a leap forward when four developers submitted proposals to participate in the project.
The Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) could begin site work, including building streets and storm water drains and retention areas, by the end of the year.
“The time to develop this area is finally here,” said Lynn Janoski, a project manager with the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency.
The research and office park, which are planned to have as many as 10 buildings totaling 30,000 square feet, could become the “economic heart of East Gainesville,” said Sarit Sela, CRA’s senior project manager.
The property surrounds the Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center (GTEC), which was the Gainesville area’s first business incubator.
“GTEC has accomplished a lot, and this project will build on its groundwork,” said CRA Director Anthony Lyons. “It’s a great location and great land. I’m very pleased by the interest from the developers.”
Other progress near GTEC is creating synergy, Lyons said. That progress includes:
- The CRA is completing a master plan for the former Kennedy Homes site, a 15-acre parcel located south of GTEC, that is intended to provide multi-generational housing for young professionals, families and seniors, recreation and parks space and possible stores and businesses.
- The Southern Charm restaurant, a CRA project on Hawthorne Road that is thriving.
- Santa Fe College took over management of GTEC in February, and it is attracting new companies as well as expanding use of the business incubator by community groups.
The CRA is meeting with the developers who are interested in the project, and it may find that several of them — or all of them –—want to construct either various buildings proposed in the master plan or variations of them.
Actual development will depend on the needs of tenants, which could include research companies, light manufacturing companies, medical practices, nonprofit organizations and stores, Lyons said.
The project will also include landscaping and lighting to create a “linear park” along the 150-foot wide GRU easement that runs through the property and extends north and south of it.
The four interested developers are:
- Jacksonville-based Signet Development, which is building the $24 million
undergraduate residences at Infinity Hall in Innovation Square.
- Gainesville-based Concept Companies, which has constructed projects in Progress Corporate Park in Alachua and many other developments ranging from Dollar General stores to medical offices.
- Atlanta-based Gateway Development Services, which has built an urban research park next to Georgia Tech.
- NP International, based in Minneapolis and Costa Rica, which is building a mixed-use development known as West 38th behind the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center and has also proposed building a conference center.
Bill Dorman, entrepreneur-in-residence and GTEC manager, with Mark Davidson and J.P. Bullivant of the Florida Tech Toybox.
“The CRA staff is very focused on this project, and when we give a project time and attention, we’re successful,” Lyons said.
The Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center, which opened in 2000, is reinventing itself with the help of Santa Fe College.
Santa Fe took over management of GTEC in February with the goal of bringing more technology and light manufacturing startups to the business incubator, which is owned by the City of Gainesville
The college is piggybacking on the success of the Center for Innovation and Economic Development, which it also operates, in attracting new startup companies and increasing the incubator’s service to the community.
A particular draw for new startups is new GTEC tenant Florida Tech Toybox.
Tech Toybox President Mark Davidson created the nonprofit organization to help inventors test their ideas by providing equipment such as milling machines, routers and 3D printers.
“People can make prototypes in a ‘garage startup’ environment,” he said. “We teach small groups how to make prototypes using our facilities. We provide tools for unlimited creativity.”
GTEC’s 100-space parking lot filled up at a Tech Toybox open house in March, and people were still parking on the grass.
“The energy was high because what we offer is desperately needed in this area of town,” Davidson said.
While the Tech Toybox event enticed people to visit GTEC, many Gainesville residents aren’t aware of where it is, said Bill Dorman, who is managing the incubator.
“People are surprised when I tell them that it’s the same distance from University and Main as the O’Connell Center is,” he said. “It’s very convenient, and the parking is great.”
Dorman is also CIED’s entrepreneur-in-residence. In that role, he runs a peer-group meeting for incubating companies.
“We want new GTEC companies to be involved in the peer group, and people who want my help need to come to my office at GTEC,” Dorman said.
GTEC is hosting events and training sessions for groups including CareerSource North Central Florida (formerly FloridaWorks) and the Gainesville Area Innovation Network.
Santa Fe is also planning to renovate the building’s entry and lobby areas to make the space more inviting.
“We want to create an open environment like we have at CIED to encourage ‘collisions’ among entrepreneurs and service providers,” said Dug Jones, Santa Fe’s associate vice president for economic development.
GTEC is home to several companies, including Ragner Technology Corp., which makes collapsible hoses; BioTork, which uses a new technology to produce chemicals from organic material; and Quantum World Corp., which produces equipment that generates random numbers used in cyber security and other applications.
Optym, formerly known as Innovative Scheduling, currently uses nearly 8,000 square feet of the 30,000-square-foot building. It continues to help the transportation industry improve logistics through sophisticated software, a goal furthered by a plan to move to an office park off Tower Road by the end of the year.
An office of the Small Business Development Center, operated by the University of North Florida, is also located at GTEC.
“With Santa Fe at the helm, a more diverse pool of entrepreneurs will be housed at GTEC,” said Michael Chung, assistant area director of the center.
“From low-tech to light manufacturing to lifestyle-type companies, the tenants will be more representatives of GTEC’s community,” he added. “With the CRA’s commitment, I think companies will matriculate and remain in East Gainesville to do business, which will spur entrepreneurship among local residents.”