by Joe Schwartz
The Innovation Center that UNC leaders had heralded as the first building to be built at Carolina North is unlikely to be constructed, Carolina North Executive Director Jack Evans said Wednesday night.
“I would simply summarize by saying that it’s unlikely to happen,” he said. “That’s another casualty of the economy. … If the financial markets hadn’t gone to hell, it would have been constructed by now.”a group of Chapel Hill residents at a public information meeting detailing the first Carolina North Annual Report, submitted to the town Sept. 1 as required by the university and town development agreement.
The Innovation Center was planned to be an 85,000 square foot, three-story building that would provide incubator space for startup companies and other private techonology companies.
Evans says discussions broke down the private partner Alexandria Real Estate Equities of Pasadena, Calif.
“It would take something that I don’t see in the offing to have that discussion,” he said.
Alexandria would have built and operated the space and UNC wanted to rent 1/3 of it. Because Alexandria is private, the company would have paid taxes on it. UNC is tax exempt. The UNC Board of Trustees approved plans for the center in August of 2008.
UNC planners now envision a research building as the first Carolina North edifice to be erected on the Horace Williams Tract, the 947-acre plot in Chapel Hill and Carrboro that will be home to the new campus.
Evans says the building will be sited on the interior of the tract and will use a different entrance than the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard site that the Innovation Center would have used.
The timeline on the research building remains vague, however. Evans says UNC still must determine who the occupants would be and what infrastructure will be needed. It could include incubator space.
He hopes to complete that work by the end of the calendar year, but says he can’t predict when UNC would bring a proposal to the Town of Chapel Hill for review.
Construction hinges on closing the Horace Williams Airport, which cannot occur until June at the earliest.
The hangar being constructed at Raleigh-Durham International Airport to house UNC’s MedAir operations won’t be completed until then, and doctors will continue to fly from Horace Williams to clinics around the state in the meantime.
Evans also said that plans to move the law school to Carolina North have been put on hold because the move is tied to funding from the N.C. General Assembly.
“I don’t see an opportunity to be really optimistic about that funding in the future,” he said.
Still, the tone for the meeting was decidedly glass half full, and Town Manager Roger Stancill said several times that the slowdown in the economy provides the community a better chance to think through Carolina North details.
The Town Council will consider the annual report at its Oct . 11 business meeting.