Larry Lewis spends his days planning and daydreaming.
From the outside, the building on Bradford Drive in Cummings Research Park appears to be an abandoned shell. Inside flooring and ceiling tiles are missing, giving one the sense that they're in an “old building,” harkening back to an earlier time in the Rocket City’s history.
But it’s a sign of where Cummings Research Park is headed in the future.
If all goes according to plan by May 2020 Lewis will be celebrating the opening of the Innovate Huntsville Center at Research Park, which will not only house BizTech and PROJECTXYZ, Inc., the business ventures of Lewis and his wife Kim, but ample room for makers to grow their ideas. With 37,500 square feet to work with, 27,500 is meant to be flexible, with plenty of maker space so that as entrepreneurs, start ups and small businesses need room to physically create their ideas they have a home.
“It’s going to spur innovation,” said Lewis, CEO of BizTech and president of PROJECTXYZ, Inc. “This is a smart city. There are a lot of people working in their garages right now with ideas. Being able to come to a facility like this with like-minded individuals who are trying to start their own business, trying to make things, solve engineering problems, I think that collaboration is going to spur innovation and hopefully create more small businesses that will impact our economy.”
Founded in 1962, Cummings Research Park has the distinction of being the second largest research park in the nation, with 3,843 acres, 300 companies, 26,500 employees and 13,538 students ranging from high school freshman to doctoral candidates. While the park has known decades of success, Executive Director Erin Koshut and area leaders are not about to let CRP grown stagnant. A comprehensive master plan set out in 2015 to keep the park vibrant, which has sparked a resurgence and revitalization in recent years, led by the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, City of Huntsville and the Industrial Development Board.
Currently at 91 percent capacity, the highest CRP has seen in more than 10 years, leaders are working to make sure the park is not just a place to work, but live, with added walkability, social events and even a bike share program coming this summer.
“One of the things we know is for our companies across the community that are recruiting and retaining top talent, creating a sense of place is incredibly important,” Koshut said. “Inside the park we are creating that sense of place. We are building that community, that collaborative environment. We’re doing that throughout the park in ways like food truck fests and happy hours and other amenities. We’re trying to amenitize what we already have, and that’s available for people not only who work in the park, but also people who are outside of the park. Come in and see a different side of Cummings Research Park.”
Case in point: the former site of St. John Paul II Catholic High School at the intersection of Bradford and Wynn was identified in the master plan as an area for mixed use. Thanks to a brand new zoning ordnance created just for this purpose, it is an area that lets buildings be brought to the street level with no height limit, allowing for a mixed use area with a downtown feel that supports the park. Samples Properties has sold the property to Driven Capital Partners out of California, who will transform the area into a mix of office space, retail, restaurants and a hotel that will be known as Bradford Crossings.
“I think this is going to completely change the feel of Research Park and really be able to draw and retain a good workforce with the amenity-rich environment,” said Alex Samples, broker with Samples Properties.
“This is a game-changer for the park that we have not had before,” Koshut said. “We’ve got the success of Bridge Street, which is fabulous, but for the east side, the oldest part of the park, it’s huge.”
While exciting new ventures are coming, companies within CRP continue to serve the park’s heritage mission – to support customers, especially those located on Redstone Arsenal. Raytheon’s new addition, the Warfighter Visualization Center, is a perfect example of how companies are finding innovative ways to accomplish that.
Step inside the spacious center and the first thing one will see is the 11 foot by 44 foot screen that helps bring to life problems and solutions for Raytheon’s customers. The facility, which features virtual reality, a digital sandtable, 3D stereoscopic and a virtual combat system that emulates the real thing, was built specifically as an area of collaboration for the defense contractor and its customers.
“Visualization is a key tool. A lot of us learn in many different ways, but when you see something in an impactful way it really helps resonate,” said Heather Scholan, senior program manager for Raytheon.
Raytheon customers are able to come in to the visualization center, where they can give those who serve them a better understanding of what exactly they need to support the warfighter. A grand opening for the Warfighter Visualization Center was held in November 2018.
“We want to make sure we get their wants and their care abouts and their needs met,” Scholan said.
For more information about CRP visit cummingsresearchpark.com.