Wexford Science and Technology tapped as master developer for Midtown innovation district

Michelle Jarboe, Crain’s Cleveland Business

A Baltimore-based developer of innovation districts scattered from Phoenix to Philadelphia is preparing to tackle a similar project in Cleveland in a long-term endeavor that could remake a stretch of Midtown.

A group of local partners led by MidTown Cleveland Inc., the Cleveland Foundation and JumpStart Inc. recently picked Wexford Science and Technology as the master developer for the innovation district, a multibuilding, mixed-use vision that might take a decade to realize.

The conceit is that Cleveland needs a central space for collaboration, a place that brings researchers, students, established companies, startups and neighborhood residents together to accomplish more than they’d be able to achieve on their own.

Such districts often are tied to anchor institutions, such as hospitals or universities. But their backers strive for an open, walkable ethos that’s a departure from traditional ivory-tower academic buildings or antiseptic research parks.

“There’s a whole story, generally, behind these,” said Julie Wagner, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and president of the Global Institute on Innovation Districts.

“Part of it has to do with a philosophy around a collaborate-to-compete paradigm,” she said, “a recognition that there’s not one actor or one organization that has all of the knowledge necessary to solve all of our vexing problems.”

In Cleveland, economic-development leaders arguably laid the groundwork for a district 10 years ago, when they rebranded a swath of Midtown as the Health-Tech Corridor and began pitching new and renovated space to growing companies, health care users and other tenants.

In recent years, the Cleveland Foundation and nonprofits MidTown Cleveland and JumpStart have talked about connecting those investments as part of a true innovation district, with additional buildings, public gathering spaces, transit and trails.

A linchpin for the plan fell into place last year, when the Cleveland Foundation chose the northeast corner of Euclid Avenue and East 66th Street as the site of its future headquarters.

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Sara McCarthy is the Fund's Director of Communications.