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UW plans for an inclusive innovation district

November 14, 2016

By: Praphanit Doowa

The University District has a lot to offer the neighboring Seattle community, and new shops and businesses are constantly opening as a result.

It can be difficult to find space in the U-District, but the UW has taken a recently opened space, 4545 Roosevelt Way NE, and has officially signed the lease.

“The university is always looking for space in the U-District because we want to have our resources be closest to the campus,” said Steve Kennard, director of operations for the Real Estate Office.

The land is next to Trader Joe’s, Performance Bicycle, and Sundance Cinemas. It is approximately 53,000 square feet, according to property service manager Ben Newton.

The UW has not yet decided what it plans to do with the space, but leased it anyway.

“The bigger goal here is to try to convert much of the U-District to what we’re calling an inclusive innovation district,” said Vikram Jandhyala, vice president of innovation strategy and executive director of CoMotion. “The idea is not to create a tech hub, but a district where everyone can participate and benefit from the innovations coming to the university.”

Whether that innovation is related to technology, the environment, service, or health, the UW has an opportunity to make the most of the new plot of land.

“If all works out well, this building becomes a second example of this mission we have of innovation,” Jandhyala said. “The first was Startup Hall … which was a great successful experiment in [bringing] tech start-ups close to the UW campus.”

The goal for the UW is to understand innovation more broadly than simply in terms of technology, which is in line with university president Ana Mari Cauce’s innovation imperative.

This new building the UW leased is meant to be the hub of innovation in the U-District. 

One tenant will be CoMotion, the innovation collective led by Jandhyala. The UW aims to have more like-minded tenants able to work with the community and link the university with the outside world.

“There hasn’t been any new significant space open up in the U-District,” Kennard said. “This is one of the first open spaces in a long time.”

The U-District will experience major transformations with the opening of the Brooklyn Avenue light rail station in 2021. The area is expected to grow in the future, but not so much right now.

“The university isn’t looking to expand right now,” Kennard said. “We want to make sure we’re using the space we have as well as we possibly can, but when this space became available, it made perfect sense to take advantage of the opportunity.”

With external parties collaborating with the UW throughout the U-District, including non-profit organizations and tech companies, the university allows the outside world to be a part of its innovation. 

“If people are close together in spaces where they run into each other more, they are more likely to have conversations about ideas and things they are working on,” Newton said. “If you design a space where this is possible, those ideas will generate greater ideas exponentially.”