Regional economic developers long have seen the Route 315 corridor as a potential tech hub. That vision is coming to fruition.

Ohio State University has recommitted to developing its western reach at Kenny Road and Lane Avenue as a technology-focused center of research and innovation after decades of indecision as to the role it should play in the university’s education mission.

The OSU Board of Trustees in late February accepted the Framework 2.0 guide to the broader development of university properties. But the creation of a science and technology research park on 280 vacant acres bounded by Kenny, North Star and Kinnear roads and Lane Avenue dominated the discussion of OSU’s long-term development plans of the west campus as the emerging centerpiece of the university’s mission.

“West campus has been the subject of a lot of ideas over the years,” says Keith Myers, OSU’s vice president of planning and real estate, including a scrapped plan for a freshman-focused academic campus that resulted in a few classroom buildings. Its research and development beginnings included the siting of the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center in Scott Hall in 1989 and various facilities such as the College of Arts & Sciences’ Museum of Biological Diversity, which moved in 1994 to a 1950s era industrial property at 1315 Kinnear Road that the university bought in the mid-1960s.

About that time, the Edison Welding Institute—now just EWI—and the Ohio Supercomputer Center rose from the former agricultural fields in the northwest corner of the west campus. “We’re now pulling together a vision,” Myers says, “and starting to work a plan.”

Ohio State bought the land in 1923 as part of its historic agriculture research and education focus. That reframed research park plan calls for the construction of 9 million to 12 million square feet of projects on the campus during the next 20 years or more. That will consist primarily of offices, labs, clinical facilities and other research and development spaces. It will eventually offer some unspecified amount of limited retail and housing in support of the core science and technology mission. “We’re trying to be purposeful about what happens on that campus,” Myers says. Ohio State will launch this recast mission with three projects now in the design stage:

• A planned 340,000-square-foot Ohio State University/Wexner Medical Center ambulatory medical facility combined with an attached, $100 million proton therapy facility of 55,000 square feet in conjunction with Nationwide Children’s Hospital on Kenny and Carmack Drive across from the Martha Morehouse Medical Plaza off Kenny Road.

• A 270,000-square-foot interdisciplinary research facility with various offerings such as wet labs to promote projects involving joint research by multiple academic and research departments at the university.

• The $35 million, 270,000-square-foot Energy Advancement and Innovation Center, to be built and operated in conjunction with Paris, France-based Engie, the university’s manager of its energy utility operations. The center has entered the design phase for a late 2022 opening. The OSU Board of Trustees approved a $3 million design contract for that project at its February quarterly meeting.

Separately, OSU plans to start construction this spring or summer on the Controlled Food Production Research Facility on the Waterman Farm complex on the agricultural research land in the northeast quadrant of North Star Road and Lane Avenue. That $21 million facility is expected to get delivered in October 2020.

Ohio State Provost Bruce McPheron lauded the relaunch of the west campus as a research and development center and its role in supporting the university’s mission.

“The Interdisciplinary Research Facility and Energy Advancement and Innovation Building will support Ohio State’s strategic plan by creating hubs for groundbreaking, interdisciplinary research and fostering collaborative and innovative research that addresses society’s biggest challenges,” McPheron says via email.

Tech-town anchor

The athletic fields now at Lane and Kenny will be relocated across Kenny at Carmack Road to make way for the energy innovation center and interdisciplinary research facility projects.

Plans for accelerating development of the west campus as a research park come as redevelopment of Lane Avenue in neighboring Upper Arlington hits a fourth gear. Continental Real Estate Cos. has plans for a $100 million complex called Arlington Gateway nearing construction of 130,000 square feet of office space, 270 apartments and 25,000 square feet of retail at Lane immediately east of North Star. That could prove the capstone for Upper Arlington’s Lane Avenue redevelopment push these last several years as OSU begins building projects at Lane and Kenny less than a mile away.

Joe Henderson, UA’s development director, said the west campus will certainly have an impact on the residential neighborhood along and west of North Star as well as the Lane Avenue commercial corridor.

“That’s a lot of land Ohio State can program,” Henderson says of the Framework 2.0 vision.

The suburb is not the only city that’s been wondering what would happen within what is nicknamed “the west lands” of campus. Columbus for decades has sought to lay the foundation for a more technology-oriented economy by creating a sort-of “tech town” connecting the intellectual might of various Ohio State technical and research-driven academic departments, American Chemical Society’s Chemical Abstracts operations and the international R&D powerhouse Battelle with the city’s finance and insurance sectors. Various regional economic plans since the late 1980s have touted Route 315 as the backbone of a technology corridor of sorts akin to North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, with the west campus considered the major real estate component to make that happen.

“You have that critical mass, these significant operations in the city,” says Quinten Harris, deputy director of economic development for the city of Columbus, of the raw components to build a thriving technology sector in the area. “All of that has combined to create a really good environment for making Columbus a great place for tech businesses.”

That vision began to take shape about 20 years ago with the expansion of the so-called science and technology campus on Kinnear Road as Ohio State’s research park.

There, the Center for Automotive Research joins the former Tech Columbus incubator, now operating as Rev1 Ventures, which has helped support the growth of many small businesses until they solidify business models, earn stable revenue and gain the ability to fledge to their own spaces. That section of the OSU research park has eight buildings with nearly 450,000 square feet and 30 acres available for additional projects.

Harris says he expects the expanded and detailed vision Ohio State has laid out for the west campus will attract a variety of technology businesses seeking to work with university professors, researchers and graduate students on cutting-edge projects. “We have a lot of big, medium and small-sized companies looking to do research and development and they want to be close to the university,” Harris says. West campus “will be a great place where a lot of research will spin off into technology businesses that will change the next generation of innovation.”