Articulate February 2019

Local Leaders Leverage Their Expertise to Advance the Innovation District


Written By: Genevieve Howard

How can key organizations and community leaders come together to devise the framework of an area of town that is not only attractive and enticing to visitors, but also helps improve the entire city by cultivating and supporting a robust economy?

As Gainesville continues its urban renewal by transforming its underutilized and outdated spaces, leaders from the community ask themselves this question.

In order to accomplish the ultimate goal of establishing a thriving urban region, combining the expertise and perspectives of those from various industries, including city planners, real estate developers, economic development planners, architects and marketers, is critical.

This collaborative model is exemplified in the Innovation District, located between downtown and the University of Florida. Such areas, by definition, are regions in which “leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with startups, business incubators and accelerators,” according to a Brooking Institution report. They also feature mixed-use housing, office space and retail, lab and entrepreneurial space.

The first step in creating a successful Innovation District, according to experts? Forming a collaborative leadership network featuring leaders from principal institutions and sectors.

Many prominent local leaders with unique expertise are lending their own knowledge to help develop and define a unified vision for this approximately 40 acres of land. One of those leaders is Mark Long, the leader of UF Innovate | The Hub, who brings extensive knowledge of business incubators and their positive effects on economic development.

Also involved are Rory Causseaux and Robert Walpole, the founder and president, respectively, of CHW Professional Consultants, who are both knowledgeable on civil engineering and land planning.

Similarly engaged are leaders from private businesses who understand the needs of companies looking to move to Gainesville. One of them is John Fleming, managing partner of Trimark Properties, the second largest landowner (after UF itself) in the Innovation District.

A final crucial player is the local government, where leaders such as Phil Mann, the city’s public works director, supply their expertise on high-quality infrastructure systems.

Oftentimes, these leaders lend their expertise to projects regardless of whether or not they will personally benefit.

“I have never been one to look first to the anticipated financial success of a project or development,” Fleming said. “Instead, I focus on projects and developments that, I believe, will advance the entire neighborhood and city and then figure out how to make them financially successful.”

These leaders all agree that in order to effectively create an urban plan for the Innovation District, forming relationships among the public, private and academic sectors is essential.

“Urban areas include public spaces, and are not totally separated from lands owned by the private landowners,” Causseaux said. “Since these places collectively make up the ‘community,’ it is important for the public and private sectors to collaborate to create the entire fabric of the community.”

Causseaux said that the introduction of an academic institution into this mix of public and private collaboration also offers input and opportunity for improved public spaces.

“Collectively, a mesh of standards, creativity and practical solutions leads to a win-win deal for the community,” Causseaux said.

So, how do these business relationships and collaborative networks occur, and how can leaders become engaged and lend their expertise?

Participate in Local Organizations

These collaborative business networks often form through community involvement.

If you’re looking to get involved, reach out to local organizations that spearhead community enhancement projects, such as the Chamber of Commerce.

Ask how to keep informed and get educated on current events. When leaders from different sectors leverage their unique perspectives and various individual strengths by coming together and serving on a committee or council, resolutions to problems are more easily accomplished.

“One of the seven habits of a highly successful person is working towards a win-win situation,” Causseaux said. “Private landowners and professionals should engage in the public discussion of public projects and development. When they do so, it is beneficial to accomplishing project goals, as leaders in private industry often bring to the table ‘can-do’ and ‘pride-in-results’-based attitudes.”

Rejecting cookie-cutter designs, Trimark Properties opts instead to develop modern, distinctive and eye-catching buildings that reflect the creative, visionary business cultures of the vibrant community of pioneering startups and established companies working within the Innovation District.

Another way to participate in the conversation is by identifying a need and bringing forward a potential solution to meet that need. In the case of the Innovation District, leaders have identified a critical need for activity and “play” spaces, which has led to current efforts being directed by UF and Trimark to reimagine S.W. Second Avenue as a pedestrian-friendly corridor, creating pocket parks and activity centers along the route from UF to downtown.

Keep Informed

Engagement is often also sparked organically from those not actively looking or expecting to get involved. Staying informed about current happenings in the community through methods such as regularly reading news articles or attending informational meetings, like UF’s Eye Opener breakfasts or town hall meetings, can provide new knowledge that leads to excitement and engagement. Often, when business and community leaders engage one another in the public square and discover unmet needs, they can apply their efforts together to come up with solutions that work.

Support Entrepreneurs

Another way to get involved is by supporting local entrepreneurs who are looking to establish businesses in Gainesville. When these businesses end up succeeding, it brings a multitude of benefits to the city as a whole; jobs are created, and groundbreaking discoveries and products are brought to the market, which is essential to the city’s economy and national reputation.

“If we want to advance the Gainesville economy, we need people and businesses to support, encourage and assist entrepreneurs,” said UF Innovate leader Mark Long. “Support them by lending your expertise, leveraging your network and voicing your support.”

Invest Money

Realistically, building a type of community such as the Innovation District requires a very large investment. Whether the capital is coming from the city to build roadways, public parking areas and underground utilities or from private institutions to construct buildings where citizens work, live and play, it is the investment of capital that will fund and stimulate the growth of an area.

Ultimately, it is the collaborative relationships among key organizations with interests in the Innovation District, mixed with the altruistic efforts of the local leaders who genuinely aspire to make the city an even greater place, that will be effective in developing a flourishing region that adds to this special city. 

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