Source: Cincinnati Business Courier
‘It’s 1819 on Steroids’: University of Cincinnati Marks Move to Digital Futures Space
University of Cincinnati is planting deeper roots within the Cincinnati Innovation District. Officials this week will formally celebrate their move to the Digital Futures complex, a $200 million, multiphase project taking shape Uptown.
UC signed a long-term lease in 2018 for building one at Digital Futures, a 189,000-square-foot, six-story structure, part of a 5.8-acre development located on the southeast corner of Martin Luther King Drive and Reading Road.
Officials said it’s the first facility solely dedicated to interdisciplinary research in the university’s more than 200-year history – a space meant to foster “creative collisions” and collaboration.
“Nowhere else on campus can you walk out your door and run into someone who's not just in a different department but a completely different college or academic area of expertise,” said Pat Limbach, UC’s vice president for research. “We have faculty here from all over because they want to be here, but they also get to be together and dream of new ideas because of proximity.”
The Courier recently got a sneak peek of the building, ahead of its grand opening Friday. Here’s what you need to know about the project, and what’s still to come:
High risk, high reward
Research is at the heart of UC’s plan for the building, “designed to foster moonshot thinking and high-risk, high-reward research,” according to the Digital Futures website. There are 20-plus labs throughout for pilot studies that include cryptoeconomics, cybersecurity, smart manufacturing, hypersonic flight and more.
The labs are flexible, meaning they can grow or shrink in size to best accommodate changing teams.
Several units of the UC Office of Research now call Digital Futures home. Staff have moved in systematically over the last several weeks. So do nonprofits like Green Umbrella, Mayerson Academy, Leadership Council and Elementz (all but Elementz have made the move permanent; Elementz will maintain its base in Over-the-Rhine).
Jennifer Krivickas, associate vice president of the UC Office of Research, said having those organizations onsite provides faculty, staff and students a front row seat to the work they do. Those groups can also participate in the research taking place on site.
“It's really advantageous,” she said.
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All floors includes a “canteen,” or breakroom space. The canteens are outfitted with different furniture with varying color schemes. Even the snack selections vary at each, as to encourage people to move throughout the building. That’s a practice UC borrowed from the MIT-founded CIC (Cambridge Innovation Center) in Kendall Square, one of many sites the team visited during its planning process.
“It’s a significant move for UC, and one we’d like to aspirationally apply across the institution as we think about coming back from Covid,” said John Seibert, UC’s associate vice president for planning, design and construction. “There are opportunities (in these spaces) to collide with other researchers and talking about things. Architecturally, moving those type of functions is a game changer in how we work together.”
Other highlights include:
- A two-story high-bay facility: The space will support the testing and operation of robotics, drones, autonomous vehicles and more.
- Augmented/virtual/mixed realty: A large-format AT/VR/XR lab will support multiple research efforts. There’s a multi-user space (where researchers can put multiple people in the same virtual environment to study how people interact); a driving simulation area (to study interactions with autonomous vehicles); and biometric capabilities (using sensors to track heart rate, respiration and more), among other offerings.
- Advanced mobility: An advanced mobility propulsion lab will develop data, tools, designs and solutions to enable ultra-quiet electric aircraft propulsion systems.
- Cryptoeconomics: This lab provides a physical space for researchers, students and companies to study the impact of blockchain technology on the future economy.
- E-shop: An electronics shop includes a dry lab workbench for designing, repairing, testing and prototyping electronics.
The Digital Futures building is the latest addition to the Cincinnati Innovation District, an ecosystem that also includes UC’s 1819 Innovation Hub, a 100,000-square-foot building that opened across the street in 2018. Other additions to the district are planned.
Terrex Development & Construction and Messer Construction, which are developing the Digital Futures complex, said a neighboring 180,000-square-foot, six-story speculative office building, which is neighboring UC’s, is also nearly complete. The buildings will eventually be flanked by more office space, a hotel and a mixed-use retail and residential development.
The Digital Futures complex is meant to complement 1819, which counts Fifth Third, Kao, Kroger and biotech investment company Orange Grove as partners. But it can offer more in terms of space, said Rusty Myers, executive vice president of JLL Cincinnati. JLL is handling leasing for the property.
“This is 1819 on steroids,” Myers told me.
Conversations are ongoing with a number of potential tenants for building two, including local, national and international companies. JLL is working with partners like REDI Cincinnati and JobsOhio as part of that process.
Myers said ideal tenants include corporations – companies in 1819, for example, looking to grow their footprint – or those on the “cutting edge” in terms of digital research, AI, biotech research and more. Intel’s planned $20 billion investment in central Ohio has also spurred increased interest.
The space is designed flexibly, whether for office or lab use. Myers sees it as Cincinnati’s version of a Microsoft or Google hub.
“I've done a lot of spec office building work in my career, and this is the best one,” he said. “It's the next generation of office. You have high ceilings, (it’s) designed for open office concept, with no columns in the footprint, (with) full-height windows and tons of light. It’s pretty special.”
Still to come
Phase one, which comes in at the $200 million price tag, will also include the construction of a 160-room, up to 10-story hotel. A partner has yet to be determined. Work could start next year, after the initial timeline for that part of the project was delayed by Covid and its impact on the hospitality industry.
Phase two calls for another office building fronting Interstate 71, between five and eight stories at 120,000 to 200,000 square feet.
Phase three includes a possible mixed-use building, with ground floor retail/restaurant space and residential living above, at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive
Adding those components "will really tie all of this together, including 1819, into a real campus,” Chad Burke, principal at GBBN Architects, said.
Overall, the price tag for the entire project is estimated at more than $500 million. Peter Horton, principal and co-founder of Terrex, said the timeline for future phases is to be determined. A lot depends on the leasing for the second building.
“The dominos have to fall in order,” Horton told me. “We intend to keep working and developing, and the quicker we move the better. But there's a lot of great traction. It’s too perfect of a scenario for companies out there looking to collaborate with UC, and all the things this site delivers.
“I think it’s going to be a smashing success,” he said.