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Science project

John Seelmeyer

Desert Research Institute is taking bigger steps toward development of a research and science office park on the hillsides surrounding its north-Reno campus.

The DRI Research Park could cover as much as 328 acres, although the institution’s administrators expect to begin much more modestly perhaps with one project covering about two acres and another involving about five acres.

The institute, part of the Nevada System of Higher Education, hopes to have development under way this year, said J. Scott Hauger, its vice president for government and business relations.

The science and research park could be a significant step toward continued diversification of the region’s economy, said Chuck Alvey, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.

It’s likely that a new plan for the economic development of the region will encourage the community to pay increased attention to the potential contributions of researchers at DRI, the University of Nevada, Reno, and private companies, said Alvey.Along with others from the private sector, Alvey sits on the board of DRI Research Park Ltd., the nonprofit created by the institution to oversee the development.

Hauger said the science and research park potentially could house companies ranging from commercial spin-offs created by DRI researchers to science-oriented firms that relocate to northern Nevada.

He said DRI executives also are studying the creation of a business incubator in the research park, partly in hopes that some of the companies nurtured in the shelter of the incubator might grow into other space in the office park.

But incubators typically don’t make money “We seek to break even,” Hauger said so DRI executives think they’ll need to see revenue from development of other parcels first.

That revenue also could help DRI Research Park Ltd. finance the infrastructure to get other parcels ready for development.

The two parcels targeted by DRI Research Park Ltd. for initial development already have utilities available. One is near the traffic circle on Dandini Boulevard just below the DRI facilities. The other is near a facility operated by the National Weather Service on the hilltop east of Highway 395.

DRI Research Park Ltd. plans to offer ground leases at market rates, he said.

Jeff Pickett of DRI Research Park Ltd. said the nonprofit is surveying the business community to determine the region’s needs. (To participate in the survey, go to http://dri.speedsurvey.com.)

Pickett also is overseeing development of a strategic plan for the property.

“The stars have aligned, and the timing is right,” Pickett said.

The stars snapped into alignment last September, when Congress approved legislation clearing roadblocks to development created when the federal Bureau of Land Management first leased the land to DRI in the early 1990s.

“That has reinvigorated our capability and our interest in developing the park,” Hauger

said.

The research park envisioned by DRI administrators isn’t anything new in the United States.

In a study in 2002, the Association of University Research Parks said more than 200 university research parks across North America are home to more than 94 million square feet of office and lab space.

More than 80 percent of the university business parks are owned by nonprofits, and nearly two-thirds operate a business incubator, the survey found.