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Universities, chasing the startup economy, reshape urban real estate

By District Energy posted 08-07-2018 00:00


Patrick Sisson, Curbed

‘The Bridge’ building on the Cornell Tech campus. Getty Images


Dennis Lower, longtime president and CEO of Cortex, a self-styled innovation hub and technology district in St. Louis, calls the sprawling, 200-plus-acre development “a handshake to the millennial workforce” in this Midwestern city.

Since 2010, when Lower arrived, Cortex, a nonprofit development and a public-private collaboration between local universities and businesses, positioned geographically between Washington University and St. Louis University, has become a nexus of the new economy.

“Every major region is trying to recruit tech companies,” says Lower. “That’s not how we’re going to get where you need to be. We need to grow our own companies, which is one of the main goals of Cortex.”

In the last eight years, the number of homegrown startups in Cortex has risen from 35 to 360, manufacturing startups have clustered in formerly abandoned brick warehouses, Microsoft just opened its first Midwest headquarters in the district last week, and the mobile-payment company Square now plans to employ 600 workers in the city’s Central West End. A former site of vacancies and urban decline has been given a second life. It’s a prime example of how a new type of university-led development has helped shape U.S. cities for the last decade, while also breathing new financial life into universities.

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