Carolina North is dealt a setback

Developer abandons plans to build lab space meant to spark innovation.

Staff WriterOctober 1, 2010 

— The deal to build a technology-transfer incubator that would kick off the Carolina North campus is off.

The project would have provided laboratory space for UNC researchers to try to turn their findings into business ventures.

Carolina North's executive director, Jack Evans, announced this month, how ever, that the university was unable to negotiate a deal with Alexandria Real Estate Properties, the lab-space developer that had been planning the 80,000-square-foot Innovation Center at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Municipal Drive.

"The Innovation Center as a project is not likely to happen," Evans said.

Even before the Chapel Hill Town Council approved the building last year, university officials had been saying the project would be delayed because of the economy.

Now the developer has walked away.

"The numbers just couldn't be made to work," Evans said. "It certainly has been influenced by the chaos in financial and credit markets over the last couple of years."

Evans said the weak economy will also delay construction of a UNC law school at Carolina North indefinitely. Last year, university officials estimated the cost of a 275,000-square-foot law school at $95 million.

"The state legislature faces some significant budget challenges," Evans said. "[The law school] building isn't going to happen in the immediate future."

University leaders had anticipated the law school and the Innovation Center becoming the first two facilities at Carolina North.

"It's not a big blow at all," Evans said. "We're disappointed that we're not doing this project, but it would have been just one project in the life of Carolina North.

"It's disappointing, because it means that we don't have the development under way."

The university had been planning 3 million square feet of buildings over the next 20 years and 8 million square feet over 50 years.

Though it's possible that Carolina North could get some utilities and roadwork done next year, Evans now expects the first building to be a research facility in the interior of the site, and that won't go up until 2012 or beyond.

Evans said that building will likely house UNC-related research units that are now renting space off campus.

jesse.deconto@newsobserver.com or 919-932-8760

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