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Bugher: ‘New urbanist’ look for University Research Park 2 means mixed-use development in store

By Brian E. Clark
For WisBusiness.com

University Research Park on Madison’s west side is now home to 126 companies spread out over 255 acres. They provide 3,600 jobs, primarily in the biotech sector and many have been spun out of UW-Madison labs.

That employment figure could be nearly tripled if URP2, now under construction three miles away on the city’s far southwest corner, is successful, says Mark Bugher, the park director.

Jobs -- other than construction -- won’t be popping up overnight, however. Though work has begun on infrastructure, Bugher says no buildings will go up on the 270-acre campus until 2012 at the earliest.

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But within 15 to 20 years, he is hopeful that it could have dozens of companies employing up to 10,000 scientist/entrepreneurs, lab technicians and other workers.

“Over the course of the next year or so, you’ll see a lot of digging and construction,” says Bugher, who has run University Research Park since 1999. It is now almost completely full, with only one five-acre site left at the corner of Whitney Way and Mineral Point Road.

“A few years ago, it became pretty clear that our current park was soon going to be filled to capacity. So we made the decision to go forward with an expansion effort and began to assemble portions of land at the corner of Mineral Point Road, Junction Road and Valley View Road which are on the far west side of Madison.”

The site is now undergoing mass grading and road construction. In conjunction with the city of Madison, roundabouts are being built at what will be the main entrances to the park: Pleasant View Road and Mineral Point Road; and Valley View Road and Junction Road.

Bugher says URP2 will look considerably different than the current research park because of the rise of interest in ‘new urbanist” planning, which calls for smaller lots, buildings set closer to the street and parking at the rear.

“It’s really a byproduct of different municipal planning viewpoints between the early 80s and today,” he says. “It will be much denser and more pedestrian friendly with bike paths and things like that.

“In the early '80s, the neighbors around the current research park wanted a lot of open space. They wanted to make sure that the groundwater that ran off of the parking and surface parking was attenuated (dispersed) into the green space as opposed to running into the Madison Municipal Sewage system and we have done that.”

There will also be some mixed use development in URP2 and even residential housing, which the current park does not have.

“You’ll see some apartments and condos,” he says. “The zoning calls for medium density residential, which suggests housing for people who might work in the park, but want to live close enough so they can walk to their jobs.”

Bugher says he expects a quicker build-out of this development than the current park, which has taken more than a quarter century to complete.

“The original University Research Park started in 1984, so it’s approaching 27 years now. It’s been a long process of development, but a pretty successful one and we hope to continue that in the future. It’s certainly a model for a successfull university-technology program and other universities look on it as a model program for what it has accomplished.

“We hope things will move faster than the 26 years it’s taken at University Research Park, given the economic cycle and the speed at which we are operating these days. You never know, you could get an Epic size operator who could come in and take multiple lots."

Bugher says the big communications tower on the property will stay put for some time because several commercial TV stations broadcasting from the tower have long-term leases. The 911 system also uses it, as does the community TV channel.

“So it is unlikely that in the near term it will be moved,” he says. “We are prohibited from constructing underneath the tower because of icefall off of the guy wires. That will disrupt the flow of the development a bit, but we have quite a bit of space to do substantial development in the southern end of the new research park that starts at Valley View Road and pushes north.”

The 270 acres is also home to several apple orchards no longer being harvested and what Bugher says are a significant number of old growth oak trees.

“We have made every effort in our layout process to preserve as many trees as humanly possible, including one bicentennial oak tree that we have saved and hope to make a signature attraction to the park,” he says. The 200-year-old tree has a circumference of nearly 12 feet.

Bugher calls URP2 a much different park in terms of layout and topography than the current park, which is rather flat and level.

“This one slopes to the west quite dramatically, so it will be a quite different challenge for us in terms of building construction, layouts and how it looks,” he says, noting that streets will be named for UW-Madison faculty who have won Nobel prizes.

Bugher says there has been good cooperation with the city for planning and road building, and relatively little opposition. The road projects -- including two bike underpasses, storm sewers and street lighting -- will cost $11 million, with nearly $6.5 million paid by the federal government.

“We have been fairly methodical with this and not tried to rush it through,” he says. “City planners have worked with us all along and tried to accommodate our issues and concerns. Once the plan was agreed by the research park staff, the plan commission and the other organizations that approve the plat, things moved quickly and we are pleased with that."

Bugher says the opposition that did pop up was from several members of the county board who were concerned about urban sprawl and use of federal dollars to build new roadways.

“But I think the economic development and jobs component (of URP2) certainly outweighs all of that. Those of us who are concerned about the ways these developments look are making every effort to make this development be a solid, responsible partner to the city and the county that will make all of the policy makers proud in the future.”

Bugher says URP2 will have 50 individual sites that should produce between 6,000 and 10,000 jobs.

“It will be a substantial potential employer for the region,” says Bugher, who notes that jobs at the current research park pay about twice the average per capita Wisconsin salary.

“These companies also hire a lot of MATC grads from the lab tech programs and also our UW-Madison science and technology grads. So this is our effort to stimulate economic development and job creation as well as stem the brain drain from Dane County and Wisconsin.”

In addition to biotech firms, Bugher says he also hopes to attract medical device, engineering and information technology, “any and all firms that are a byproduct of multi-disciplinary discovery coming out of UW-Madison.”

And it’s not just professors who will be creating jobs and companies at URP2, Bugher says.

“Student entrepreneurs are an emerging and significant growth part of the economic development mix here,” he says. “And spinoffs from existing companies both large and small that have been inspired by UW technology are important drivers of jobs.

“We feel strongly that our main objective is to be helpful to the university and its faculty, students and staff to create an infrastructure for technology transfer (without) competing with normal developers in the area who are involved in more traditional business park development.”

Bugher says URP2 is actually the second expansion outside the current park.

“The Metro Innovation Center has been a pleasant surprise for me,” he says. “We have 10 suites and seven are filled. It’s our commitment to the city’s economic development strategy on East Washington and that corridor.

“It’s also a different kind of start-up company than we get here in the research park, typically computer science, software development and Internet-based companies that require smaller suites with less build-out and less expense in an edgier neighborhood l. It’s a fun place to be.”

With URP2 taking off, Bugher says he’s not going anywhere.

“I have no immediate plans to leave,” he says. “I’m still young and enjoying what I’m doing here. It’s fun to have this expansion underway. As long as the university is satisfied with what I’m doing, I will continue to plug away.”

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