Cutting the Causeway

UC Davis and the city grow closer with Aggie Square

By Jordan Venema
May 2019

Hoping to strengthen ties between the city of Sacramento and UC Davis, university leaders announced a year ago they would build a mixed-use development called Aggie Square on the UC Davis Health Campus in Oak Park.

“Aggie Square will have all the features you’d expect in a live, learn, work, play ecosystem,” UCD Chancellor Gary S. May says. “There will be new housing, new offices, smart classrooms, state-of-the-art research and lab facilities. It will truly be a place where university, industry and community come together.”

Located on a 25-acre parcel within the 144-acre Sacramento campus, Aggie Square will provide approximately 1 million square feet of research and innovation space to create economic and educational opportunities, and help revitalize the Stockton Boulevard corridor. In addition to proposed retail and food, the location will include housing for academics and UCD graduate students.

Located on a 25-acre parcel within the 144-acre Sacramento campus, Aggie Square will provide approximately 1 million square feet of research and innovation space to create economic and educational opportunities, and help revitalize the Stockton Boulevard corridor. In addition to proposed retail and food, the location will include housing for academics and UCD graduate students.

Despite estimates that the project will take between five and 10 years to complete, the idea for Aggie Square has moved quickly since May became UCD chancellor in August 2017.

The former dean of Georgia Tech College of Engineering, May participated in 2001 in planning Atlanta’s Technology Square, a 1.4 million-square-foot, mixed-use development home to startups, researchers and technology companies.

In 2017, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg led a delegation to Atlanta to visit May and tour the site. Just over a year later, UCD announced Aggie Square’s first project, a $60 million inpatient rehabilitation hospital that will create 200 new jobs.

May revealed the latest concrete addition to Aggie Square in February: an innovation center for UCD faculty and partner IBM. The demonstration space in the launch headquarters will be large enough to showcase ideas or technology for about 50 people at a time.

Months after his arrival at UCD, May established an exploratory group to make recommendations for academic programs at Aggie Square. The university website notes Aggie Square will create a stronger and healthier shared community, but otherwise the university has released little information about its partners pending the finalization of contracts. Bidding for construction contracts has not yet begun.

The building process begins with a formal “request for quotation” and “request for proposal” from UCD, which allows architects and construction companies to bid on the work. “We will issue an RFQ for developing the first phase of Aggie Square in early June,” Bob Segar, Aggie Square planning director, says. “We will follow up with an RFP in the fall. We aim to start construction in 2021.”

Despite remaining relatively quiet on the project’s appearance, the city and UCD have high hopes for this incubator, innovation hub, residency and retail location. The project is expected to advance technology and create economic opportunities, especially within Oak Park.

In December 2017, Steinberg and May appointed a work group, which produced a 35-page study identifying one of the project’s goals to “contribute to community building and community health by expanding access to Sacramento’s innovation economy for all communities, businesses and individuals with an emphasis on making investments in talent development, career pipelines and opportunities for underserved communities.”

“Here at the city of Sacramento, we are focused on creating an economy that benefits residents of all of our neighborhoods,” Steinberg says. “Partnering with UC Davis on Aggie Square will help us leverage the strengths of this great research institution to create good paying jobs for young people from all of our neighborhoods. Our kids from Oak Park should be first in line for these jobs.”

While the work group promotes job creation and economic opportunity for struggling residents, the city and university have not explained how Aggie Square will achieve its goals. And the question remains: If Aggie Square creates job opportunities within advanced industries in a neighborhood already undergoing gentrification, will it create opportunities for that community to advance with those jobs by importing new talent?

To help answer that question, in June 2018, Gov. Jerry Brown approved $2.8 million in state funds toward Aggie Square. The money was intended for use in 2018 and 2019 toward community engagement and outreach.

While Aggie Square will create jobs through retail, food services and advanced technology, the project remains education-focused. It “will encourage collaborations across disciplines—in life-sciences, food systems, mobility, government, civic technology, arts and communications to spur economic growth in Sacramento,” the school website says.

UCD also is exploring a program to allow students to spend an academic quarter in Sacramento.

Jordan Venema can be reached at jordan.venema@gmail.com.

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