See what an old Sears means for UC's growth

Posted at 8:00 AM, Feb 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-23 20:14:12-05

CINCINNATI – University of Cincinnati is tripling the size of its business incubator and technology hub in Avondale before the doors are even open.

UC is pumping another $6 million into the project for a total of $22 million to strip down and renovate a former Sears department store on Reading and Linton roads to expand the usable space from one to three floors.

The five-story, 86-year-old art deco building, which UC already owns, is being retrofitted to house the UC Research Institute, which helps connect entrepreneurs and established businesses with UC experts for collaboration.

UC2U, an online learning program ranging from professional certificates to master's degrees, will also house its offices there along with UC Sim Center, which connects UC researchers and students with Procter & Gamble technical staff. 

Room for more

About half the space will be left unfinished with the hope of leasing it to young businesses that can draw on the expertise of UC researchers, business professors and students. The goal is for tenants to be able to move in by July 2017 after a major gutting and renovation of the facility.

"It's not just a conference room. It's more about having this innovational place where entrepreneurs want to be," UCRI President and CEO David Linger said. "You want people to be able to drop in. You want this place that has a showplace of innovations."

Locating the research and business hub in Avondale was a direct result of the pending opening of the new Interstate 71 interchange at Martin Luther King Drive, which UC and the Uptown Consortium hope to use as a catalyst for a greater innovation corridor.

Innovation Corridor

Uptown President and CEO Beth Robinson said her group has used UC's project to help secure almost 90 percent of 44 acres they targeted centered around the Reading Road/MLK interchange. Uptown wants to act as a master developer of sorts to recruit upstart businesses and more established businesses that focus on research and innovation to occupy those sites, which are scattered into quadrants in an area bordered by Harvey, Whittier, I-71 and Lincoln. 

"(The Sears renovation) jump starts our whole effort and our concept," Robinson said. "We feel strongly that once UC plants their flag there with their research and development hub that businesses will want to locate nearby." 

University architect Mary Beth McGrew said UC is following a model already being used in Cleveland, Baltimore and Pittsburgh to create urban research parks that are anchored by large institutions like UC.

"I always like a big idea of why we are doing this, and that was the idea behind this project," she said. "That doesn't mean the university has to own the land. It was a stake in the ground to begin to stimulate development."

Historic Character and Modern Office Space

The sprawling complex includes the original 1929 department store and a 1940s addition. UC is in the process of demolishing the addition and replacing it with green space. Existing parking lots will be re-graded, and no new parking structures will be needed.

"It's going to be a very cool blend of vintage art deco with modern furniture and innovations for collaborations," Linger said. "It's really all about facilitating those collisions. Innovation occurs when those interdisciplinary passions collide."

The complex will eschew closed offices for open-area desks and tables and "touchdown zones" where people can congregate in different settings like a counter-height table to talk over coffee or a cluster of lounge chairs and coffee tables with white boards posted on beams.

"The enthusiasm you hear in my voice is from when you start sitting down and seeing floor designs and start looking at what that collaborative space may look like and it gets real. Now the excitement starts to build," Linger said.

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