After more than two decades of talk about building a research park in Sioux Falls, construction on the USD Discovery District is slated to begin next semester, combining business and innovation on one campus.
The 80-acre corporate and academic research park was recently awarded a $755,000 grant by the U.S. Economic Development Agency for infrastructure development, which will help fund about 2,800 feet of roads and utilities needed to begin construction of the first building at the District.
In total, the research park, which will be located in northwest Sioux Falls near the University Center and the GEAR Center, will have about 26 buildings, boast 1.1 million square feet of space and cost about $315 million to build over a 25-year period.
“The goal is really to create a place where private industry interacts with university being students and faculty,” said Rich Naser, Jr., president of the USD Discovery District. “The real primary goal of this is to create employment opportunities for our best and brightest of South Dakota so they don’t have to leave the state to pursue those opportunities if they don’t want to.”
Naser said this is the third time an attempt to create an “innovation park” in Sioux Falls has been made. Discussions for a place where research and business could mesh were first discussed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but failed to take shape after South Dakota Gov. George Mickelson, a leading proponent of the District, was killed in a plane crash in 1993.
Among the seven other people killed in the crash were Sioux Falls Development Foundation leader Roger Hainje and Economic Development Commissioner Roland Dolly.
“(The District) didn’t occur, of course, because of the events that transpired and the passing of not only the Governor, but of our economic community leaders that were involved in it,” Naser said.
The second attempt at the creation of the District came in the early 2000s and the third attempt came in 2012 when legislation authorizing the establishment and operation of research parks on land controlled by the Board of Regents was passed.
University of South Dakota Research Park, Inc. corporation was formed and in July 2013, the site was leased from the Board of Regents for 99 years.
Multiple stakeholders are helping to develop the innovation park, including the Board of Regents, USD, the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship, the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, the Sioux Falls Development Foundation, Forward Sioux Falls and the City of Sioux Falls.
The District will have a distinct biomedical “flavor” due to research being done at the nearby GEAR Center and the presence of health giants Avera Health and Sanford Health, said Dan Engebretson, the chair of USD’s Biomedical Engineering Program and an ex-officio member of the District’s board of directors.
“We’ve kind of been doing things like the things we plan on doing in the Discovery District on a smaller scale for the past several years and it’s just got to the point where we can turn the volume up and do more,” he said.
At the GEAR Center, Engebretson said new research is being done in the biomedical field, including the creation of new drug-coated balloons that can be used in the treatment of Peripheral Artery Disease. One of the businesses currently leasing space in the GEAR Center is Alumend, a biotech firm developing innovative medical products based on a platform tissue bonding technology.
Both Alumend and Eleison Pharmaceuticals, a company that develops and commercializes clinical stage drug candidates for “orphan” oncology indications, are two companies that are listed as tenants at the innovation park.
The District’s 26 buildings will be developed by private companies, who will also work with students at USD and researchers to develop new products. Naser said he hopes that the announcement of the first private building at the site will come next year.
“We want it to become a virtual circle or a virtual cycle where the activities of the District are feeding the University and the activities of the University are feeding the District and everyone is successful,” Naser said.
The 120-page master plan for the District calls for a sprawling campus of natural open spaces, room for retail shops, residential living areas and a bike system. Nasser said the innovation park will be similar to a “downtown environment” with a focus on supporting innovation.
The roads in the innovation park, which will be the first features to be constructed and will lay the groundwork for the rest of the property, will also lay the groundwork for the mentality of the researchers who will work there. All of the streets will be named after USD alumni and faculty who have made contributions to various fields, including biomedical engineering.
“This is about doing globally impactful things in South Dakota and having the opportunity to impact our country and our world and pursue those challenges here. That’s what it’s really about,” Nasser said.
Want to know more about the USD Discovery District? Take a look at the master plan below!