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June 22, 2023 | Shannon Smith

Ground broken on newest UT Research Park building

The Innovation South building is expected to open at the University of Tennessee Research Park at Cherokee Farm in late 2024.

The ceremonial dirt is turned, meaning construction of the newest building at the University of Tennessee Research Park at Cherokee Farm can begin.

Innovation South will enable the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), and industries to educate a next-generation workforce, conduct cutting-edge use-inspired research and scale up technology development for many critical sectors including automotive, biotechnology, forestry, and manufacturing.

“The world-class instruments, capabilities, and expertise that will be housed in Innovation South truly represent the future of place-based innovation,” said UTK Chancellor Donde Plowman. “From agriculture to architecture, from healthcare to automotive, just think about the breadth of that all represented out here. The technology conceptualized and tested by our teams of researchers in this new building is going to change industries and create economic opportunity across the region.”

Innovation South is developed and owned by Partners Development, and UTK is the anchor tenant. The university will be occupying a 30,000-square-foot high-bay facility focused on advanced manufacturing research and development as well as workforce development training and education.

Well over 100 people attend the groundbreaking ceremony for Innovation South at UT Research Park.“It’s the first time that the university has come in and served as an anchor tenant,” said Tom Rogers, President of the UT Research Park. “Then we’ve got commercial clients to co-locate with them, and the synergy is just already bubbling. This is gonna be a really, really great thing.”

Other tenants include IACMI—The Composites Institute, the U.S. Forest Service, Trimble, EDP Biotech, the Golden Roast, and Volkswagen Group of America. The Golden Roast is a local coffee shop that will serve those in the research park. This will be the shop’s third Knoxville cafe location.

“The other companies see the advantages that tenants are getting in terms of opportunities to collaborate,” said Rogers.

Innovation South is still just dirt, yet it’s totally full. These tenants secured their spots well ahead of time, knowing the state-of-the-art amenities and proximity to UTK’s campus were worth the wait.

Jeff Turner with the U.S. Forest Service said his team has been waiting to move into a space at the research park since 2001 when they first heard talk that such a location could exist. The U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station relocated to Knoxville from Asheville back then in preparation for this day.

“Our unit wanted to be closer to a university that had a major forestry program,” said Turner. “It was always going to be a partnership with UTK, but there wasn’t a lot of room on campus.”

The UT Research Park will continue to grow past Innovation South. An official request for information (RFI) for a new hotel and conference center closed earlier this month. Rogers said they have had “several positive responses from developers.” He expects to issue a formal request for proposal (RFP) this summer. Rogers said the park is also hoping to build a standalone facility for the Spark Innovation Center.

If you’d like to check out construction progress or see what makes up Cherokee Farm, much of the area is open to the public.

“This is a 150-acre site, only half of which has been developed as a research park,” said Rogers. “There are walking trails, there are all kinds of opportunities to come and break free. We’re working on a boathouse so you have access to the water, so absolutely I think the community needs to consider the park part of that.”

Innovation South is expected to open in late 2024.

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