Research Park: Work, play, learn and—live?

By every measurable indicator, the University of Utah’s Research Park is a success. Originally established in 1968, it was intended to stimulate economic development within Utah through connecting industry with ideas coming out of university research while encouraging U graduates to stay in Salt Lake City by providing convenient access to research jobs. Over the years, Research Park has incubated multiple businesses until they found success. In fact, recent studies have shown that up to 50% of current life science jobs in Utah can trace their beginnings to the U and Research Park.

Today, 48 companies and 81 university departments—with a combined workforce totaling more than 14,000—call Research Park home. But what about the next 50 years?

Conceptual design of what Research Park could look like in 50 years.

A new and updated vision for the Park has been in development for the past fifteen months. The modernization of the plan sticks to historic principles but allows for new ideas to flourish and increases efficiencies of scale.

We sat down with Real Estate Administration Executive Director Jonathon Bates to find out more.

What is the biggest change we can expect to see coming to Research Park?

To clarify, these plans are still in the development stage and have not undergone final approval nor adoption. This preview is for our campus community as we near study completion. Once we have final input from campus constituents, we will share the study with the University’s Board of Trustees and seek their input and approval. That said, the most exciting change would be the potential incorporation of live-work, mixed-use communities that create the opportunity for 24/7, 365-days-a-year occupancy.

SEE THE FULL VISION HERE

What are live-work communities?

Let’s use a small startup company based on university research as an example. A live-work building is strategically designed so that this company and its employees have access to affordable and versatile offices and workspaces on the first, second and third levels, while apartments are conveniently located on the upper floors. Retail spaces could also be available for say, a small grocery store, coffee shop or restaurant. Lassonde Studios offers a successful example of this model being utilized by students today on campus.

Why are these live-work communities so revolutionary?

One word: Traffic. The University of Utah campus, the University Hospital, Primary Children’s Hospital and Research Park all bring thousands of single-occupancy vehicles to campus every day. Thousands of cars that contribute to traffic congestion, accidents with other vehicles and pedestrians and add to the pollution we see in the valley’s air.

By providing affordable living spaces to employees in close proximity to where they work, we can eliminate some of those vehicles from the morning and afternoon commutes. And convenient, walkable access to retail spaces like a community grocery store where the essentials like milk, bread, toilet paper and diapers, decrease the need for a car even more.

Additionally, the vibrancy created by the 24/7, 365-days-a-year occupancy increases the bump-ability factor—the collision of individuals that helps facilitate unexpected conversation or collaboration resulting in a new innovation—between academia, industry and the broader community. This bump-ability factor is a crucial ingredient to a successful innovation eco-system by creating unintended collaboration between all of these stakeholders with very different viewpoints and backgrounds.

And maybe most important to this conversation is that only those households with a family member who works on the University of Utah campus, at the University Hospital or in Research Park are eligible to live in one of these future units. Again, in addition to creating a vibrant community for individuals to live, work, play and learn, we want to get cars off the roads during peak hours.

This sounds great! When can I move in?

Not for at least three to five years. While today there are existing developers in Research Park who are already working on plans to redevelop, embracing the concepts being finalized through the master planning process, a large portion of the development potential represents long-term goals. We have tenant companies in buildings that still have 10-30 years left on their leases. And while that sounds like a long time, we still need that time to raise funds, perfect plans and ensure our infrastructure is robust and sound. Then when an opportunity presents itself, we’ll be ready.

One thing we haven’t addressed is public transportation. Do the updated plans account for that?

Conceptual design of a mobility hub where multiple modalities intersect.

Yes. I believe our transportation improvements to be some of the most impactful, as well as crucial, changes that will drive the future success of Research Park. They focus on creating equitable access to transportation across all modalities. These new plans give us the flexibility to accommodate a possible TRAX line expansion, for example. We don’t know if or when that might happen. But again, if the opportunity presents itself, we will be ready to take action.

We also know that bus and shuttle services need to be revamped to increase efficiencies and that proper infrastructure, such as sidewalks, ensure a safe and inviting environment for pedestrians, bicyclists and other active transportation modes. So, over the past year, my team has created what we call the “Heart of the Park.” A pop-up food-truck location where anyone can connect with a campus shuttle or UTA bus, grab a personal scooter or bicycle or find a paved sidewalk that connects to their final destination. Public transportation works best when there are many options to get from point A to point Z and anywhere in between.

One of the best aspects of Research Park today is all of the green space and the connections to trails. How are you addressing those concerns?

I’m glad you asked. Currently, Research Park has many surface parking lots. One idea is to build a few multilevel parking structures and reclaim those hardscape surfaces. Walking and increased pedestrian mobility is the core value that has influenced all of the other plans.

Additionally, our plan strongly embraces ecological and sustainability principles, as we envision these as our biggest calling cards. Current plans envision the creation of more active, inviting and connected open spaces including the potential for the daylighting of a stream as well as the creation of an ecological heart of the park.

What is the one thing you want our readers to know about the future of Research Park?

Research Park continues to be a great opportunity for the university, our students, faculty and community by being an anchor to Salt Lake City and the state’s innovation ecosystem. It is critical that we work to create a plan that develops additional opportunities for growth; while working strategically and thoughtfully to mitigate our impacts on the environment and our broader community. We continue to seek and welcome new ideas and concepts on how we can improve the plan with these goals in mind. The plan is still a work in progress and we have hopes to finalize and seek its adoption this fall.