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Local News

Innovation Pavilion plan moving with mixed results in Joliet

Local library and school officials hesitant to hop aboard

JOLIET – Innovation Pavilion CEO Vic Ahmed said he is coming to Joliet about once a month to work on a future campus for tech-minded entrepreneurs.

Innovation Pavilion has not taken out any building permits, which Ahmed previously had said he expected to do by the end of 2017. But Ahmed said he is not off schedule.

“We are not behind, but we are not ahead either,” he said in a phone interview last week.

Some of the company’s early meetings with library and school officials appear to have gotten off track, however.

Library officials became wary of providing public space for a private, money-making venture.

A trip to Innovation Pavilion’s Centennial, Colorado, facilities to see what the company could provide in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education did not impress the superintendent of Joliet Township High School District 204.

But Innovation Pavilion said it is moving forward.

A real estate developer for Joliet is to be announced next month. The company also plans to create a local advisory board this spring to help determine the future of a Joliet campus.

The City Council approved an incentive package in July that potentially includes $200,000 in cash and free land to support Innovation Pavilion’s idea of building an incubator campus downtown that would include workspace, a school and even residences where young adults would come to develop innovative, entrepreneurial ideas to convert into new businesses.

A big plan

Innovation Pavilion said it plans to spread such campuses across the country.

Joliet was the third town to sign up for the plan, and Innovation Pavilion has since added a fourth.

So far, Centennial, Colorado-based Innovation Pavilion has not started building in any of those towns: Olathe, Kansas; Parker, Colorado; and Florence, Arizona. Ahmed, however, said the company has set up an office in Olathe’s city hall.

Joliet officials have said they expect it to take at least three years to build the campus. But Ahmed had said he planned to start small by opening space in 2018. He said last week that Innovation Pavilion has not found the right space.

But Ahmed said he is close to announcing a real estate development partner for the Joliet project.

“We are going to be announcing that in March,” he said. “They have visited with us in the city already. They have responded with enthusiasm.”

Meanwhile, he and Jennifer Bustamante, expansion manager for Innovation Pavilion, have been meeting with local people to talk about their plans – at times inquiring about potential space.

Looking for space

Innovation Pavilion had looked at using space at the Joliet Public Library to get started in town.

“So far, that possibility doesn’t seem to be working out,” Ahmed said.

Innovation Pavilion was looking for more space than the library could offer, said Megan Millen, executive director for the Joliet Public Library.

But library officials also were concerned about how Innovation Pavilion intended to use the downtown library.

“They want it to be a for-profit model, but libraries can’t be for-profit,” Millen said.

The city has offered free space at Union Station to help Innovation Pavilion set up a Joliet office. Ahmed said he is considering using that space when he hires someone to work in Joliet.

The city agreement with Innovation Pavilion provides free city-owned land at one of two locations downtown: 2.7 acres at what now is the site of the city’s Riverwall Parking lot; or 4.6 acres on East Washington Street at the former Lyons Lumber site.

The land does not become available to Innovation Pavilion until the company takes out building permits for construction. Once that happens, the company also would be eligible for $200,000 from the city to cover development costs.

Ahmed said Innovation Pavilion has not decided where to build but is leaning toward the Lyons Lumber site.

The STEM plan

The plan for the campus includes
a STEM school to foster learning in science, technology, engineering and math.

District 204 Superintendent Cheryl McCarthy said she went to Centennial, Colorado, at Innovation Pavilion’s invitation to see what the company had to offer in STEM education.

McCarthy said she visited a charter school that has a relationship with the company and was shown what was described as state-of-the-art software that was the same the Joliet schools use, as well as science facilities not as well-equipped as those in the Joliet schools.

“I said, ‘You have to come see us. We have this and so much more,’ ” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said she and Innovation Pavilion no longer are talking about a partnership for a STEM school. But she remains interested in the possibilities of an arrangement in which students would go to an Innovation Pavilion campus to demonstrate business ideas.

“That would be perfect for our students to be able to go to space outside the classroom and hear from people in the industry,” she said.

Bustamante said she has talked with a few downtown businesspeople about the company’s plans in Joliet. In the next 30 to 60 days, Bustamante said, Innovation Pavilion plans to set up an advisory board of local businesspeople that will help determine the nature of the campus.

“It’s not our agenda that we come up with,” she said. “It’s what the community members want to see on the campus.”

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