by Sharon McCormick
Trend-setting cities around the globe are establishing Innovation Districts—transforming forgotten areas into dynamic amalgams of corporate sophistication, startup edginess, walkable communities, trendy restaurants, hip housing and cultural clusters. While considered an emerging phenomenon, the paradigm is something RMA has already embraced. Our current Pompano Beach project incorporates all of these concepts and more.
For years, innovation occurred in sprawling corporate campuses that were isolated. Think Silicon Valley and Research Triangle Park. Today, innovation emerges from a mash-up of ideologies where people co-invent, co-produce and stay connected to all of the dynamic energy because this is where they work, live and socialize daily in an urban environment.
When RMA was hired to reinvent Pompano Beach, they immediately saw a vast under-utilized area, near a highway system, that could be developed to incubate creativity and spur economic growth.
The area was attractive for innovative transformation for many reasons. First, it was historically the downtown area of Pompano Beach offering easy access to transit via interstate, rail and air. This area also offered many acres of vacant land that were available for new construction. Additionally, two historically significant dilapidated buildings located there were envisioned as thriving cultural facilities. In addition, the city and county had entered into an agreement to build a new library and cultural arts center in the same vicinity.
All of these positives led us to believe that this area was ideal for the creation of the “innovation district.”
The process to realize innovative reinvention incorporated three key areas of our firm’s expertise.
Our Economic Development director, Kevin Crowder, conducted a market analysis and determined there was regional demand for Class A office space, urban residential product and retail. He calculated the market potential and how much new development could be supported.
Next, RMA’s Urban Design & Planning director, Natasha Alfonso-Ahmed, developed a plan which incorporated a unique drainage system, one that would act as a canal system similar to those in San Antonio or Amsterdam, rather than a typical circular suburban drainage pond often seen in South Florida. RMA’s plan envisions an urban and pedestrian environment with streets and canals lined with offices, outdoor cafes and restaurants. One benefit of this is development projects that would have dual frontage (water and street sides) dramatically increasing real estate values. The physical environment would also connect people together with nature through the pedestrian friendly creative design.
While Kevin and Natasha focused on their respective elements, I went to work developing plans to connect the human capital to the project. Through a new “Innovation Organizers” program, we will connect knowledge, talents, experience, intelligence, training, and wisdom among entrepreneurs, innovators, artists and interested locals.
One aspect of my leadership role is to oversee two of the city’s cultural facilities, Ali Cultural Arts and Bailey Contemporary Arts (BaCA). The mission and programs of these venues will act as the catalyst for innovation advancement, supporting an exciting new frontier for artists and makers. The “maker culture” typically includes engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics and 3-D printing, as well as more traditional arts and craft activities such as metalworking, woodworking and painting.
Technology, creativity, leading-edge anchor institutions and companies that cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators, coupled with ‘pride of place’, results in innovative transformation —–and this is what makes an “Innovation District.”