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UNL ceremonies to award 2,400 degrees
UNL ceremonies to award 2,400 degrees

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is nearly ready to begin drawing up specific plans for how it will convert State Fair Park into a high-tech research and development campus.

Chancellor Harvey Perlman announced Friday that UNL has chosen two firms to help make Innovation Campus a reality: SmithGroup/JJR in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Noddle Development in Omaha.

UNL's contracts with the firms are worth a combined $1.1 million. The contracts await approval from the Board of Regents at its April 24 meeting.

SmithGroup/JJR will serve as Innovation Campus master planner. Noddle will craft a business development strategy for the project.

Their plans are due Dec. 1, one month before UNL acquires the 251-acre fairgrounds.

"It will be an intense time between now and then," Perlman said.

A search committee chose the two firms from a pool of 19 that had bid on the requests for proposals UNL issued last December.

The firms represent "an extraordinary team," Perlman said in announcing their selection during a speech for Husker Spiritfest, the four-day reunion UNL is hosting for alumni and friends.

Each company stood out with relevant experience, talented team members and chemistry with UNL leaders, Perlman said. Each also showed "real and legitimate passion for what we're trying to do."

UNL hopes Innovation Campus ultimately will be a hotbed of public-private partnerships, home to research collaborations between university scientists and private-sector leaders, internships for students and more.

As master planner, SmithGroup/JJR will identify which buildings at State Fair Park might be retained, analyze infrastructure and traffic, evaluate the flood plain and general topography, and create a design that establishes a "sense of place" and uses the land effectively, UNL said.

SmithGroup/JJR has completed more than 200 master plans for academic and research campuses nationwide and has worked with eight of the nation's top 10 research universities, including the University of Michigan, the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Noddle Development will craft a business plan for Innovation Campus, including business models and leasing options for campus tenants and operating budget and marketing plans.

In its 40-year history, Noddle has developed more than 125 projects comprising more than 8.5 million square feet in 18 states, including Aksarben Village in Omaha.

UNL wasn't necessarily looking for a local firm to be a part of the Innovation Campus team, but Perlman said he's "delighted" Nebraska talent will be represented.

Work will begin as soon as the companies receive Board of Regents approval, he said.

With such a short time until UNL acquires the fairgrounds, construction on Innovation Campus likely won't begin right away, Perlman said.

The first facility planned for the campus is an agricultural research center that will be a partnership between UNL and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Depending on how quickly UNL receives the necessary funding for that facility, construction could begin in one year, Perlman said, though he called that a "best-case scenario."

With its exploding research enterprise, UNL also is drawing interest from private companies seeking to partner with university researchers to develop new technologies.

In the past month alone, Perlman said he's spoken with two major firms interested in partnering with UNL. He would not name them nor say what area of research they're interested in, only that it "would be research that plays to our strengths."

In all, Innovation Campus will need 10 to 20 years or more to fully develop.

Reach Melissa Lee at 473-2682 or

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