Browning doesn’t have small plans for the Discovery Park District. Instead, the commercial real estate firm is in the early stages of a multi-decade project to bring research labs, student housing, traditional multifamily space, office space and even single-family homes to 450 acres on the southwest edge of Purdue University’s campus in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Browning has been working as the master development partner on the Discovery Park District since 2016 when the Purdue Research Foundation selected the real estate firm to take on this job.
The hope is that Discovery Park District will drive new business and economic development in this section of West Lafayette. The full plan includes student housing, non-student multifamily units, hotels, new research labs, office space, retail, advanced manufacturing and light-industrial space.
It’s certainly a big project. Browning says that the district will eventually total more than 7 million square feet with a total investment of more than $1 billion. Browning and other developers will be tackling vertical development at this site for the next 15 to 30 years.
“This is truly a multi-decade project,” said Adam Chavers, chief development officer for Indianapolis-based Browning. “We are talking a total investment of 25 to 30 years. We have that much ground to cover. We have the ability to do a true mix of uses on this site.”
Browning is leading several projects that are either completed or under construction now at the district. This includes traditional student housing, multi-tenant private office space and two advanced manufacturing facilities. Construction is also underway on non-student multifamily housing, while developers are already planning a single-family residential village on the site.
“You don’t get this broad spectrum of uses if you are talking about 15 acres,” Chavers said. “The unique thing here is the sheer scale and size of this project.”
Scale and size have been two issues that Browning has been tackling since the start of the project. When the Purdue Research Foundation named Browning the project’s master developer, it included several obligations that Browning must oversee and deliver.
Browning has worked alongside the Purdue Research Foundation to develop an overall vision for the land. And that vision can get specific. As Chavers says, Browning and the Purdue Research Foundation had to develop an overall street and infrastructure network for the project, including creating a plan to account for the addition of needed utilities. And, of course, Browning had to show Purdue plans for each individual component of the project.
During the project Browning will work with other outside developers. Browning is a developer, but as Chavers says, not every project included in Discovery Park District will fit Browning’s expertise. Browning and the Purdue Research Foundation are selecting outside developers that will be the best fit for every part of the project.
“It’s not just Browning that is working on this project,” Chavers said. “The more developers the better. There are spots for others to do their own projects. Having all this expertise will make the project that much more successful.”
A long road
Browning started planning the Discovery Park District with the Purdue Research Foundation four years ago and finished this initial master plan in the summer of 2017, devoting the last three years to executing this plan.
Construction first started on a new student-housing project developed by Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions. This doesn’t mean, though, that Discovery Park District is a student-housing-dominated development. Chavers said that Purdue requested that construction start first on student housing because the university had a pressing need for new student units.
This phase of the development – Aspire at Discovery Park District — turned into a privately owned, operated and financed student housing project, bringing new beds to the edge of campus.
“It was a great kicking-off point for the District,” Chavers said.
The overall goal of the Discovery Park District is to increase the interaction between private companies and academic institutions in West Lafayette, Chavers said. It’s why private industry, from the start-up level to larger corporate companies, are such an important part of the plans for the district.
“Let’s produce technology here that addresses global, state and regional needs,” Chavers said. “We can help create companies that hire Purdue graduates and students. It’s a giant economic development play that is all based on this relationship between private industry and academia.”
The Convergence Center for Innovation and Collaboration was another milestone for Discovery Park District. This 143,000-square-foot office building is partially occupied by the Purdue Research Foundation. There is also a co-working space in the building run by Carr Workplaces, while Germany-based life sciences company Bayer is also filling space at this office building.
In the planning process now is a single-family residential village. Chavers said that this development will be a key part of the district.
“There was a recognition that not everyone wants to rent an apartment,” Chavers said. “It was an ‘a-ha!’ moment. We have the benefit of 400 acres here. We can carve out a large enough area for a residential village.”
Old Town Companies is the master developer for this village, to be known as Provenance at Discovery Park District. This development will include single-family homes, townhouses, luxury condominiums and multifamily rental apartments. Chavers said that Old Town Companies is in the sitework stage of the project.
Another big win for the district? Sweden-based Saab is building a manufacturing plant in the district. Construction of this facility is expected to wrap by the end of this year, with Saab moving into the space in January of 2021. Saab will make fuselages for the Boeing T-X, which is being promoted as the next-generation jet trainer to be used by the U.S. Air Force.
It’s clear, then, that construction is moving along at the district, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic hasn’t affected planning and construction at all,” Chavers said. “We have moved forward. We have made great progress. Hopefully, when this is all done, we’ll look back at the pandemic as only a blip.”
What will rise during Discovery Park District’s second phase? Chavers said that Browning and Purdue Research Foundation are considering a wide range of uses, including hospitality and meeting space.
Discovery Park District is unusual in that it has two institutional stakeholders – Purdue University and the Purdue Research Foundation – that are both very interested in the success of the project.
“That level of stakeholder interest in combination with the amount of available land and mix of uses we are planning means that this takes an intensive and longer planning process,” Chavers said. “As master developer, we are responsible for determining the land-use plan, the zoning plan and the infrastructure plan, to name a few. That all takes time. You can’t plan that in 60 days. You don’t want to do the wrong thing fast. You want to get your plan right in the first year.”