By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer 

UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May, center, Mayor Darrell Steinberg, left, and other officials smile during the presentation celebrating the groundbreaking of Aggie Square. Antonio R. Harvey, OBSERVER

University of California at Davis (UC Davis) Chancellor Gary S. May and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg joined development partners, elected officials, and community leaders on Feb. 16 for the ceremonial groundbreaking of Aggie Square. 

Hosted on UC Davis’ Sacramento campus at the corner of 2nd Avenue and 45th Street, the occasion ushers in the future home to research programs, private industry partners, classrooms, student housing and public-facing programs that engage local communities and entrepreneurs.

“Aggie Square is the ultimate ‘innovation ecosystem.’ It’s part laboratory, classroom, workplace, business incubator and community gathering place,” May said. “We’re building a place where companies, researchers, students, faculty and community advocates work side by side, where cutting-edge UC Davis research powers innovative companies, and where UC Davis provides training for up-and-coming industries and for residents who live in surrounding neighborhoods.”

The innovative project is expected to expand the Sacramento region’s economy by bringing in $5 billion annually. City officials said Aggie Square will add close to 25,000 jobs for Sacramento and an excess of 16,000 career positions.

The speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony included Thomas Osha, executive vice president, Wexford Science and Technology; James “Jim” Berens, chairman and president, Wexford Science & Technology; Congresswoman Doris Matsui, District 6; and Ben Chida, chief deputy cabinet secretary, office of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In addition, local state, county, and city officials participated in the historic moment that will transform a parking lot into a new technology/scientific hub in Sacramento. 

State Senator Dr. Richard Pan, District 6; Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, District 7; County Supervisor Phil Serna, District 1; and City Councilmembers Eric Guerra, District 6 and Jay Schenirer, District 5 spoke at the event.

Aggie Square’s five-building layout will serve as more than 1.2-million square feet of public and private space.

“We are creating an economic center with thousands of new jobs, and the people in our neighborhoods will be the primary beneficiaries. Aggie Square stands as an example of what is possible,” Steinberg said. 

The first phase of construction will begin this spring with two buildings for research in science, technology, education and mathematics (STEM), teaching, and a building dedicated to lifelong learning. UC Davis has already launched an undergraduate program, Quarter at Aggie Square.

In collaboration with other partners, the city created a comprehensive Community Benefits Partnership Agreement (CBPA) to satisfy the community’s interest in the project before shovels were put in the ground. 

Under the agreement, the city will contribute $50 million to affordable housing in the Oak Park and Tahoe Park communities, with a $10 million loan earmarked for a 225-housing unit for low-income residents on Stockton Boulevard.

The loan, which will subsidize nonprofit developer Mercy Housing California Sacramento, will come from Measure U funding and the city’s budget. Voters approved Measure U in 2018 to provide a one-cent sales tax to support projects such as housing.

Aggie Square’s ultimate outcome is to allow researchers to do cutting-edge work in the fields of life science, technology and healthy communities. It is geared to represent the largest potential infusion of well-paying jobs the city has seen in recent history and will be a catalyst for Sacramento’s post-COVID economic recovery. 

All five buildings on the campus will begin construction in April, with a completion date of late 2024, according to Steinberg’s office.

The underlying question going forward will be where the Black community and Black entrepreneurship will fit in the scheme of things, as some leaders have expressed their concerns. 

Last March, Elgin Bradley, the proprietor of A Toucha Class sports bar, restaurant, and nightclub, brought it to May and Steinberg’s attention that the Stockton Boulevard corridor once accommodated up to 30 Black businesses. Bradley said over the last 43 years, it has since been reduced to a small number that will take years to rebuild, considering the gentrification that is currently taking place in nearby Oak Park. 

Bradley, who was once an employee at the Sacramento County Hospital — which was renamed UCD Medical Center — said there are about three businesses on the stretch that was the historic Highway 99. 

Business, elected and community leaders shovel dirt during the groundbreaking ceremony announcing the beginning of construction of Aggie Square, a multi-billion dollar development in the Oak Park and Tahoe Park neighborhoods of Sacramento. Antonio R. Harvey, OBSERVER 

“I really believe that (Aggie Square and affordable housing) will enhance the reputation of Stockton Boulevard simply because there is so much going on,” said Bradley, who has run a business on Stockton Boulevard since 1979. “And I do think it will attract African American businesses and people of color back to the boulevard, and end up having a viable business district as a result.” 

The groundbreaking ceremony was also witnessed by Black leaders and community activists who have been keeping their eyes on the project since its inception. Most of the attendees have publicly voiced their opinions about the involvement of Black people. 

Chet Hewitt, President and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation; Cassandra H.B. Jennings, President and CEO of St. HOPE; and Rick Jennings, Sacramento City Councilman, District 7 were seated in close proximity to May and Steinberg at the ceremony.

Hewitt and Ms. Jennings made it clear that Black inclusion as the project progresses is a must.

“We should make sure that inclusive economic development and equity are a part of the discussion,” Jennings said of the Aggie Square projects in May 2020.

Each of the five buildings is anchored by UC Davis programs and configured to provide private industry investment, robust “innovation infrastructure” for startups, as well as community-based partnerships, according to Wexford’s representatives.

Wexford Science and Technology is the lead on financing for the project, investing $1.1 billion in UC Davis and Sacramento by building Aggie Square’s first phase. Wexford’s chairman and president James Berens said that equality is how the whole project will achieve success. 

“Aggie Square will be a dynamic, inclusive, collaborative and impactful ecosystem merging the university, corporates, startups, the city and its citizens into an environment that is unique in character and integrated into the fabric of the community and regional innovation ecosystem,” Berens said. “We believe the elements that are in place for Aggie Square will create a powerful economic development engine for the region and will lead to equitable opportunities for all.”