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Leffingwell appoints committee to explore Innovation District

Thursday, November 7, 2013 by Gene Davis

Mayor Lee Leffingwell, using descriptions such as “a catalyst for long-term prosperity” and “creating the Austin of the future,” set high expectations for an Innovation District being planned just west of the future Dell Medical School Campus at the University of Texas.


Leffingwell, speaking at  the Downtown Austin Alliance-hosted breakfast on Wednesday, announced the creation of an Innovation District Advisory Group. He said the panel will work on the initial logistics of the potentially massive project. In the simplest terms, an innovation district is a walkable, mixed-use environment that attracts startups and entrepreneurs to one place.


“We stand at a great opportunity to develop a hub for emerging ideas and technologies; a place where cutting edge companies can share space with smaller entrepreneurial firms; a place where creative workers can live, work and play with mixed-use housing, retail and green space; a place that can be easily navigated with mass transportation transit; a place that can help us develop the promise of new jobs and increased prosperity for the benefit of citizens throughout the entire region,” Leffingwell said.


The DAA breakfast featured veterans of the Kendall Square Innovation District in Boston, which transformed 1,000 acres of waterfront property into a mixed-use community that has generated more than 4,000 new jobs in 200 new companies over the last three years. William Ghormley, senior vice president of Xconomy, said that similar to Cambridge, Austin has the right combination of education, leadership and geography to make an innovative district work.


“This is an (important) moment for Austin, Texas,” he said. “You are about to make history. You are about to start a journey toward creating the next generation of Austin.”


In creating an Innovation District, the city would be more responsible for planning and guiding the vision than footing the bill, which would mostly be covered by the private sector, Ghormley said.


DAA chair Larry Graham said the innovative district would help transform the northeastern part of downtown, a longtime DAA goal.


The DAA breakfast came a year after voters approved Proposition 1, which funded the UT Medical School. Sen. Kirk Watson, who led the push for the medical school, said an innovation district is a part of his 10-year plan to improve health care in Austin.


“Austinites embraced a vision (in approving Proposition 1), Travis County embraced a vision, and we would be remiss if we didn’t build on that (with an innovation district),” he said.


The Innovation District Advisory Group is made up of 25 members and will work on logistics such as transportation, infrastructure and geographical restrictions standing in the way of an innovation district, advisory group member Tom Stacy said.


“It’s a real responsibility,” he said. “We owe it to our kids and grandkids to do it right.”

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