NASA, universities begin talks on research park


Local universities, lead by UC Santa Cruz, have begun formally discussing the creation of a major new campus at Moffett Field intended to conduct research on space travel.

UCSC, Santa Clara University, the Foothill-De Anza College District and Carnegie Melon University have all signed a letter of intent with NASA Ames, with all of them seeking a major presence in the NASA Research Park planned for Moffett.

"It's an agreement to hold open discussions between us and NASA to see if we can arrive at a plan that will allow us to implement a vision for the research park," said Bill Berry, managing director of UCSC's Affiliated Research Center.

The schools already have a small presence at Moffett, offering graduate programs in math, science and engineering -- and Foothill-De Anza has an internship program that employs students at NASA Ames. But to qualify for the research park, they must contribute to NASA's mission in space.

If an agreement is reached, the current programs would expand, at least in UCSC's case, to include "a broad academic program," Berry said. Students would be able to study biology, nanotechnology, even the business-related subject of "managing tech innovation in a global economy," Berry said.

Berry cautioned that "We are very far from any kind of agreement about what we will do."

"The UC has a mandate to establish a Silicon Valley center," Berry said. "If we can make it work this would be an ideal location -- the regents agreed a number of years ago this would be an ideal site."

A memorandum of understanding for the research park was signed with Mountain View and Sunnyvale in 1998. Eventually the project could take up four to five million square feet of office space for colleges and private business, and another two million square feet for housing.

When all is said and done, NASA Ames will add up to 5,000 people at Moffett, said NASA Research Park director Michael Marlaire last year.

At the time, Marlaire also said that to complete the first phase -- for 200,000 square feet of office space and 1,000 units of housing -- NASA would be receiving bids as early as last month. But instead of developer bids, NASA is looking at a "long term lease" with the universities, he said through NASA spokesperson Mike MeWhinney.

"Everything we do out there has to take into consideration housing as a component," Berry said. The project "links traffic, housing and jobs. We have to move all of them forward together."

NASA's environmental impact study for the research park requires that housing be built to mitigate traffic impacts.

For its part, Foothill-De Anza has allocated $300,000 to study a new campus in the area and is expected to make a decision sometime this year.

In 2005, Google announced plans for a one-million-square-foot campus in the north-western corner of Moffett. Those plans are currently on hold.

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