Proposed Mace Ranch innovation center returns

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

Said Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida: “I am encouraged that this group took a slow and measured approach to fully exploring options. This can be a real opportunity for our citizens.”

Measure B Davis - Mace Ranch Innovation Center

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | June 12, 2019 | The Davis Enterprise

The Mace Ranch Innovation Center is back, this time with a new name — the Aggie Research Campus.

The development team behind the original MRIC proposal — which was placed on hold in 2016 — formally requested Tuesday that the city recommence processing the innovation center application so the project can eventually be put to a Measure R vote.

“As you know,” a letter to the city from Daniel Ramos of Ramco Enterprises Inc., states, “the project was placed on hold three years ago, in the spring of 2016, after higher than expected costs and economics analysis, among other factors, caused our ownership group to re-evaluate the project. But we never lost faith in the innovation center and its ability to have a meaningful positive impact on Davis, and we now feel that the time is right to move forward.”

In fact, even after withdrawing the proposal in 2016, the developers asked the City Council to certify the final environmental impact report that had been prepared for the project, which the council did in September 2017.

That EIR was based on a proposal by Ramco, along with partners Buzz Oates and Reynolds & Brown, that included 1.5 million square feet for businesses, 884,000 square feet for manufacturing, 160,000 square feet for hotel space, and 100,000 square feet for retail and restaurants on a 212-acre site at the northeast corner of Mace Boulevard and Interstate 80.

However, in 2016, an economic analysis by Economic & Planning Systems Inc. estimated the project would generate less than half the revenue of similar innovation centers.

While similar projects around the nation generate about a 12-percent internal rate of return — a measure of profitability — the MRIC, as proposed, would bring in only a 5-percent return, the EPS report stated.

Ramos cited the shrinking amount of land that could actually be developed for the project as a reason why.

Due to open-space requirements from the city and county, only 128 acres were left for development — 60 percent of the overall land, Ramos said at the time.

The proposal looked good for the city and region, though, creating up to 5,882 jobs, generating an estimated $2.2 million a year for the city and resulting in about $3 billion in total economic impact throughout the region, according to reports.

What would make a difference for the developers, Ramos said at the time, would be adding housing — specifically, 850 units of workforce housing, something the environmental impact report prepared for the project described as an “environmentally superior” option given the assumption that at least 60 percent of housing units at the site would be filled by employees who work at the center.

But the housing aspect received its share of opposition, and City Council members were ultimately reluctant to place the project on the November 2016 ballot.

After devising a 102-acre, scaled-down version of the project, the developers ultimately withdrew their plans in June 2016.

On Tuesday, they returned with a request for city review, City Council consideration, and a proposed Measure R vote for a project which the developers said would provide “a cutting-edge innovation campus” while addressing the city’s need for workforce housing. “It also delivers a significant economic benefit to Davis, helping to address the city’s budget deficit and supporting vital public services like transportation, infrastructure, and public safety,” a press release stated.

City officials were receptive.

“We look forward to discussing the details of the proposal further with the Aggie Research team,” said Assistant City Manager Ash Feeney.

“Economic development that promotes a diverse and resilient economy furthering the fiscal health of the city is of keen interest. As a host city to a world-class university in UC Davis, the city is brimming with human capital and talent. The proximity to campus is also an exciting prospect for businesses that prosper through a synergistic relationship with research and development universities. “We are excited about evaluating the proposal and working with the project proponents to bring a project forward for consideration by our commissions, City Council, and the Davis community,” said Feeney.

In his letter to the city, Ramos said, “Since placing the project on hold, our team has continued to meet with tech industry experts and executives to ensure that we have a clear understanding of their current and future needs.

“As a result of those meetings, we have a more complete sense of what is necessary to make a large-scale innovation center in Davis a success in the near term and well into the future. What we have learned definitely … is that the inclusive campus model — a component of which is workforce housing — is essential for the success of a modern center.”

Project specifics were limited in Tuesday’s announcement, however.

The developers are proposing to request only those entitlements necessary to move the project to a Measure R vote: a General Plan land use designation, pre-zoning, and baseline project features.

“We are also interested in negotiating a development agreement with the city,” Ramos said. “Only after a tenant decides to locate at the Aggie Research Campus will we seek more specific entitlements, thereby maintaining the flexibility to respond to changing user preferences.

“This approach strikes, in our view, a healthy balance between providing the city and its citizens' assurances about what the project will entail without prematurely prescribing every detail of the development.”

City Councilman Dan Carson said Tuesday, “I am glad this team is ready to re-engage with our community on their Aggie Research Campus proposal.”

“I invite Davis residents to share their comments and suggestions with city planning staff and the applicants for ensuring that any project constitutes sound land-use policy,

addresses any environmental impacts, and is fiscally positive for the city,” Carson said. “This community conversation is important because obtaining city tax revenue and jobs from economic development are critical to the future of our city.”

Said Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida: “I am encouraged that this group took a slow and measured approach to fully exploring options. This can be a real opportunity for our citizens.”

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy.

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