* Ed. note: The problem with the bird is that he immediately falls in love with any grandiose proposal he hears and avoids reading feasibility studies on the idea. If we don’t watch him, he will propose building a monorail between MTSU and the civic center.

We gave him an assignment to learn more about innovation districts. Below he tells us what he found out.

by Chicken Little

“Raw materials in and finished products out.” It sounds so early 20th Century. On the other hand there are several problems with my proposal to create an “innovation district” along the Joe B. Jackson corridor.

“Let’s do something wild and get a burger at McDonald’s.”

The first argument against the plan is brutal. The young urban professionals needed to jump start an innovation district in Murfreesboro are looking for a rich urban experience that doesn’t exist here now. Nashville or Chattanooga might be more to their liking.

The second objection is the Joe B. Jackson location. Most, but not all, innovation districts are started in the centers of cities as a way of reviving decaying business districts. Judging from comments made recently by the city’s planning consultant, the underdeveloped neighborhood south of city hall around Broad Street might be a better location.

A center along Joe B. Jackson would require a major outlay for additional infrastructure. As the consultant points out, the roads and utilities are already in place near the civic center.

Finally, innovation districts need ties to a major research university to flourish. Could MTSU play that role here?

Is the Chattanooga story relevant to Murfreesboro?

Chattanooga is believed to be the first mid-sized U.S. city to create an innovation district. The district, which exists mainly on paper right now, is a 140-acre circular area in the heart of the city. It extends about a quarter mile from its center at M.L. King Blvd and Georgia Ave.

The 10-story Edney building at the corner of Market and 11th Streets, will anchor the district. It will provide a home for accelerator and incubator firms that help entrepreneurs get their businesses up and running and then nurtures them.

Co.Lab and Lamp Post

Co.Lab, a nonprofit business accelerator that has helped many of the city’s  start-ups, expects to become the Edney building’s anchor tenant. Co.Lab plans to hold all of its events in the building and will offer short-term leases to start-ups that aren’t far enough along to be viable yet.

The Lamp Post Group, an incubator that has helped enterprises ranging from some enterprising college students to a company with a $100 million in sales, is another key player in the city’s innovation district.

No waiting for something buffer here.

The key to the city’s pitch to attract high-tech firms is its municipally owned, super-fast 100% fiber Internet system. It offers every home and business in the community Internet service with speeds up to a gigabit a second. The network, about 200 times faster than the national average, makes broadband capacity in Chattanooga a non issue.The gigabit plan costs $70 a month. A 100 megabit plan, which is still about ten times faster than the national average, costs $58 a month.

Smart grid

The Internet network grew out of the city’s municipally owned electric utility’s effort to reduce the extent and duration of power outages. With the help of a $111 million federal grant the utility was able to get its smart grid up and running within three years. The smart grid can detect a problem in the system within milliseconds and reroute power around it. The Chattanooga utility claims that its smart grid has cut the duration of power outages in half.

To provide a place for people to interact, the city is redesigning Miller Park. a major open space area in the district. The mayor is seeking suggestions from the public for the park renovation, which will cost about $3 million and take a year to complete. The project is expected to raise the floor of the park, which is sunken now, and connect it up to smaller open spaces in the district. The hope is that drawing more people into the park will promote redevelopment of the area around Martin Luther King Blvd.

Innovation districts enable city governments to attract and keep small businesses without providing the expensive tax incentive packages that large industries often demand.  They are like research parks except that they are located in the center of town within walking distance of housing, entertainment and other high tech businesses.

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