Avent: Pending Land Sale Could Boost Research Park

Hopes for a research park adjacent to Florida Polytechnic University could get a boost via a pending deal by a developer to buy several thousand acres from the Williams Companies, the university’s president told Lakeland city commissioners on Tuesday.

“There is a developer that has an accepted offer from Williams on the property and they’re in due diligence now,” Poly’s Randy Avent said during the commission’s day-long strategic planning session.

“We have three companies that if we had space right now they would move into campus immediately, so we’re hoping we can leverage that,” Avent told commissioners.

Neither Avent nor Sean Malott, president and CEO of the Central Florida Development Council, named the potential buyer, but Malott told commissioners the company plans to buy all of the Williams holdings near Florida Poly.

Williams Acquisition Holding Co. LLC started marketing the 4,470-acre property bounded by Interstate 4, Polk Parkway and State Road 33 in 2016 through a commercial brokerage.

Avent and Malott came to Tuesday’s meeting to gain support for the planned Central Florida Innovation District envisioned for the area around Florida Poly.

View their presentations here or at the end of this article.

Under the plan, space would be set aside for four “target industry focus areas:”

  • Information Sciences & Engineering, just west and south of the campus.
  • Health Tech, on both sides of University Boulevard closer to State Road 33.
  • Advanced Manufacturing east of campus across the Polk Parkway.
  • Mobility & Innovation to the south in the area surrounding SunTrax, the autonomous vehicle research track developed by the Florida Department of Transportation and Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise.

The four focus areas align both with Florida Polytechnic’s academic priorities and industries being targeted for recruitment to Central Florida, Avent said.

“If we build this research park, it will do a lot to transform the economy in polk county. it will bring jobs,” he said.

The Central Florida Innovation District plan also envisions clusters of retail and housing for the people who work in the park.

Some takeways from visits to other research parks are that people want to live near their work and that the most successful ones include adjacent research universities, industry and government, Avent said.

One benefit of a research park next to campus is that its high-paying jobs would induce Florida Poly graduates to stay in Polk County rather than leaveg for high-tech jobs elsewhere, Avent said.

One potential future point of contention is that the area designated for health tech is currently zoned for light industrial, including warehouses. At least one potential buyer of the property had expressed an interest in using that corridor for warehouses, to the chagrin of city commissioners who want to maximize the space available for research-park uses.

Mayor Bill Mutz and Commissioner Stephanie Madden offered enthusiastic support for the research park following Tuesday’s presentations. Commissioner Chad McLeod asked what the city could do to help bring it about.

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