The University of Missouri says its Mizzou Center in Blue Springs will leave by the end of September, ending a partnership announced six years ago to get the Missouri Innovation Park off the ground.
The university’s involvement had been seen as critical to getting development going at the Innovation Park, where the city would like to see high-skill, high-paying jobs in such areas as life sciences. Specifically, officials have hoped that the first building on the 63-acre park’s first phase would have about 60,000 square feet, half used by the university and half by a private company.
As recently as October, the university’s chancellor – Brady Deaton, who has since retired – suggested the university was still committed to the project and told The Examiner “we’re not holding back on anything” at the Innovation Park.
On Thursday, however, the university announced a six-month extension of its office space at the Heartland Financial Building near the proposed Innovation Park site and said it would leave by Sept. 30. The announcement came late in the day in a pair of news releases, one from the university and one from the city and the Blue Springs Economic Development Corp., which has been the driving force behind the Innovation Park. Neither Mayor Carson Ross nor EDC President Brien Starner returned calls Thursday.
“We are very committed to enhancing our presence in the Kansas City area,” former MU Provost Brian Foster said in the university’s news release, “but many changes have taken place in the five years since we established the Mizzou Center when we entered into a collaboration with the city of Blue Springs.”
MU cites a realignment for the closing of the Mizzou Center, allowing those key services to continue. The six-month lease extension will allow time for the school to develop a strategic plan to better serve Jackson County and the greater Kansas City area, the university said.
University Extension, which has its Eastern Jackson County office in downtown Blue Springs, had been expected to eventually move into the university’s space at the Innovation Park.
“The market today is not quite what it was five years ago,” MU Director of Extension Communications and Marketing Dennis Gagnon said Thursday. “Our commitment to Jackson County remains the same and it won’t affect programs or staffing.” He also said that staff and personnel of the Mizzou Center will be relocated to extension offices such as the recently opened office in the Kansas City River Market area. “But we still have an Extension office in downtown Blue Springs.”
Plans for partnership
In 2008, a partnership was formed between MU, city of Blue Springs and Blue Springs EDC to focus on the development of the Innovation Park on Adams Dairy Parkway between U.S. 40 and the retailers and restaurants just south of Interstate 70.
At an EDC conference in Blue Springs last winter, university officials made the case that MU’s highly ranked schools – agriculture, medicine, veterinary medicine, engineering, journalism – translate into four areas of strength that could be exploited commercially at places such as the Innovation Park. Those areas are health, food, sustainable energy and “media of the future.”
“Those are four areas where we would argue we’re in a position to be world class,” Foster said at the time.
Regarding the Innovation Park, he also added, “We’re just incredibly committed to making this work.”
In 2010, MU leased space at the Heartland Financial Building and opened the Mizzou Center, giving it more of the presence it was wanting to have in the Kansas City area.
But there had been little movement in the development of the Innovation Park since 2011, and last year officials began publicly questioning the university’s commitment.
“Mizzou has not made a declaration that is sufficiently energetic to rally attention to itself,” Starner told The Examiner last fall.
“I don’t have that visible sense of Mizzou being here,” he added.
Deaton acknowledged those concerns.
“I know it’s somewhat frustrating for Blue Springs, as it is for us,” he said.
Both Foster and Deaton had said this was a high priority, but a specific business plan hadn’t been presented to the university’s Board of Curators as of late last summer, and there had been no formal word from the university until this week’s announcement.
In the city/EDC news release, Ross said the project will go on despite MU’s announcement.
“We are certainly optimistic that the work undertaken over the past few years has created an environment for future success and we are prepared to continue to execute our vision for the Innovation Park,” he said in the release.
MU also gave Blue Springs its blessing for the Innovation Park by saying it’s “well positioned for long term success.”
“..now is the time to refocus and redefine the development strategy of the Missouri Innovation Park,” said Starner said in the news release.