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Feb. 23, 2012 Volume 33, No. 21

Mizzou moving forward with research center in greater Kansas City


Plans were downsized due to recession, state budget cuts

The University of Missouri is known as a cutting-edge research campus. But its distance from major metropolitan areas inhibits some projects from connecting with businesses and organizations.

Steve Wyatt, vice provost for economic development, has been working with MU officials, the city of Blue Springs in metropolitan Kansas City and the Blue Springs Economic Development Corp. to change that.

MU’s presence in the region is not about competing with Kansas City higher education institutions for contracts and students. “It’s about Mizzou contributing and collaborating in the region.”

—Steve Wyatt, vice provost for economic development

About five years ago, several factors converged regarding MU’s presence in the greater Kansas City area, which has a population of 1.5 million.

First, Mizzou saw the need to increase visibility of its research, teaching, extension and economic development offerings in urban areas. “We have a lot of really smart people here who do a lot of research that impacts society,” Wyatt said. “The problem is that most people and businesses are in the metropolitan areas. If we are really going to bridge the gap for contract research and education collaborations, we need to be there at the table.”

Second, officials of Blue Springs, population 55,000, wanted to build a research park anchored by a research university. And third, Kansas City leaders were interested in increasing Mizzou’s research in the area, but the university’s distance was inhibiting collaboration.

The Mizzou Center

Talks in 2007 went well and MU began planning for a presence in the Blue Springs’ Missouri Innovation Park, a work in

progress southeast of Interstate 70 and Adams Dairy Parkway. Planners say the science and technology park, of which Blue Springs is the main investor, will cover 250 acres, host dozens of companies and employ about 3,500 people.

In anticipation, the MU Jackson County MU Extension Office relocated to downtown Blue Springs to be close to the proposed Mizzou Center location. The plan was to locate the office in the future center.

But months later, Mizzou’s role changed due to the nation’s economic downturn, Wyatt said. Rather than build and buy, MU planned to lease a floor in a Blue Springs complex.

In March 2010, the Mizzou Center opened on the first floor of the Heartland Financial Building near the park. The center has 10,000 square feet for research, education and outreach programs offered by MU’s colleges of education, human environmental sciences and veterinary medicine, and by MU extension. Also offered are master’s programs in library science and social work. The center plans to offer research, education and economic development programs in the future.

Last November, the letter of intent between the city, the Economic Development Corp. and Mizzou was changed to reflect the new circumstances. MU will still be the park’s anchor university tenant, but the new agreement has Blue Springs financing and owning the research building and MU leasing it.

The three entities are working together to hammer out a lease agreement and identify and select a building developer, who will be chosen before March 1, Wyatt said.

Once a consensus is reached, the design phase of the building project will begin.

Open space, open minds

But what kind of research and programs will be there?

Wyatt has been meeting with MU deans to pick their brains about how they would use the space, but he would not offer details of ideas because the process is not finalized. “We’ve had very good meetings with all parts of the campus, and their

ideas are really exciting,” Wyatt said.

But some ideas, while good on paper, may not be economically feasible. “We need a model to make this sustainable,” Wyatt said.

Some of the best research centers, including Apple’s in

Silicon Valley that was partly designed by the late Steve Jobs, allow open space where great minds of different departments can meet casually or accidentally to exchange ideas. The Missouri Innovation Park developers understand this and have built into its design eateries and recreational activities, including a golf course, where researchers can relax and mingle. 

Wyatt envisions something similar at the new building, tentatively called the Mizzou Center. “We’d like a very open construction, transparent, flexible where there is a lot of collaboration,” he said.

Collaboration, however, doesn’t end with park scientists and researchers. Wyatt said it is already happening among

MU, the University of Missouri in Kansas City and other metro institutions. MU and UMKC, for example, jointly hired a person to market the technology of both universities in the greater Kansas City area.

MU’s presence in the region is not about competing with Kansas City higher education institutions for contracts and students, Wyatt said. “They have strengths and we have strengths,” he said. “This is about filling the gaps, not duplicating services. It’s about Mizzou contributing and collaborating in the region.”

Phase I of the Missouri Innovation Park will develop 63 acres, including constructing the some 60,000-square-foot building anchored by Mizzou. Building construction is planned to begin in September, and its opening is expected in spring 2014.