Archive for Thursday, June 24, 2004

City leaders close to incubator deal

Officials aim to use taxpayers’ money to start high-tech center

June 24, 2004

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Economic development officials confirmed Wednesday that they have reached a tentative deal to spend $600,000 in public money to buy a west Lawrence building to house promising startup technology companies.

Leaders with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and the Lawrence Regional Technology Center said they were close to completing a deal to purchase an 11,000-square-foot building at 1617 St. Andrews Drive from Lawrence investor Donald Stephens. Both organizations said the purchase was important in attracting budding life sciences companies and keeping companies that spin off from research conducted at Kansas University.

"We think this is huge for the community," said Matt McClorey, chief executive of the Lawrence Regional Technology Center, a state-funded organization that provides business consulting services to high-tech companies. "This gives us the ability to have a true nerve center for high-tech, startup services."

McClorey's organization will operate the center, which economic development officials call an incubator because it provides a place for young companies to grow at a relatively low cost. McClorey said he expected the facility would be able to accommodate up to six startup companies.

The deal, which is expected to close in late July or early August, will conclude a nearly 10-year search for an incubator. In 1995, city and county commissioners agreed to begin setting aside $50,000 a year to purchase an incubator. The city contributed $250,000 during a five-year period, and the county contributed $200,000 during the same period. The money drew interest in a savings account and grew to $600,000.

Chamber officials had to approve the building's purchase because it was given oversight of the money by city and county officials.

Lavern Squier, president and chief executive of the chamber, said the chamber board approved a draft of the purchase agreement during its meeting Wednesday. He said chamber officials had been working on the agreement for several weeks to ensure the public's investment would be protected if the center closed or stumbled financially.

"We believe it is a good deal," Squier said. "We believe this is the right time to do this."

The building, which originally was the headquarters for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, currently houses the administrative offices for LRTC. But the organization only leases about 3,500 square feet of the building. The limited space, McClorey said, meant the organization could only provide incubator space for one or two companies.

"We're operating at 100 percent capacity right now," McClorey said. "We couldn't take on another client if we needed to."

The incubator won't be able to provide all the services originally envisioned when area leaders began funding the idea. Originally, economic development leaders said it was important for the facility to provide low-cost laboratory space.

"That is still definitely where we want to get to," McClorey said. "We think this is a good first step."

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