OneC1TY deal is in an early stage, but holds promise to jump-start tech growth
The Tennessean: By Ryan Underwood
When Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen realized several years ago that a vast stretch of post-industrial real estate sat rotting, literally, in the geographic center of an otherwise booming Seattle, he did what any shrewd billionaire would do: He bought it.
But this was no mere land grab. Allen laid out a vision for a new biotechnology hub that would emerge as a world-class, sustainably built destination for new shops, restaurants, condos and, most importantly, companies intent on building the future.
In the span of less than a decade, the neighborhood, South Lake Union, has flourished, attracting more than $2 billion in private investment since 2003. Over the next five years, the area is on track to double its workforce population to 30,000, and when South Lake Union is fully built out, companies there are expected to generate about $900 million in annual tax revenue. As if to hurry that timetable along, Amazon opened the first of an 11-building campus there in 2010.
“This is what the new urban creative economy looks like,” Richard Florida, author of the influential book The Rise of the Creative Class, said about South Lake Union in a recent interview during which he was asked to identify up-and-coming neighborhoods across North America.
Clustering technical, entrepreneurial and university talent in close proximity is hardly a new idea, but it clearly works, as places such as Research Triangle Park in North Carolina and MIT’s University Park in Cambridge, Mass., have shown.
Now, a group of developers is interested in doing something similar in Nashville along Charlotte Avenue, near the soon-to-be-open 28th Avenue Connector, an area that nestles up to HCA’s and Baptist’s back doors. (Plus, Swett’s is a stone’s throw in the opposite direction — what’s not to love?)
The proposed development, called One C1ty, would seek to attract companies working in health-care technology. Plans for the 19-acre site call for an eight-building campus encompassing 3 million square feet of mixed office and lab space, according to Keith Gregg, chairman of Brentwood-based JRG Ventures, a lead developer on the project.
While no tenants have formally been announced, Gregg said the firm is in advanced discussions with several companies, including one well-known international company.
“The profile of the companies expressing interest include life science, academic, analytics, IT infrastructure, wellness, specialty medical practices, clinical trial, diagnostic, pharmaceutical, and data transport,” Gregg said in an email exchange.
(Of course, development plans like this should always be taken with a grain or two of salt, as the proposed Signature Tower and Intercontinental Hotel and Condo, neither of which ever made it off the drawing board, can attest.)
The one thing that’s abundantly clear, however, is that health-care technology is growing and probably will for a long time to come.
I attended a panel discussion earlier this week led by North Highland Affiliate Lou Anne Barnhouse on new international standards for disease classification, which in the U.S., also will be used for billing purposes. Experts estimate that hospitals and academic health centers will need to budget $10 million to $50 million just to meet the new standards, while individual physician practices will need to budget about $500,000. In addition, there are ample opportunities in the IT space for companies specializing in warehousing sensitive medical data, as well as developing computer-assisted coding systems.
And that’s just in one narrow slice of an enormous — and enormously complex — industry.
Whether it’s the One C1ty project, or another one like it that comes along, the potential opportunity to breathe new life into an abandoned industrial strip while helping seal Nashville’s reputation as a destination for health-care innovation seems too good to pass up.
Ryan Underwood is an editor at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management. His column, which appears every other Thursday, covers the startup culture in Nashville.