UC Berkeley’s ‘Global Campus’ to Gather Nations in Richmond

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Berkeley Richmond Campus

By Neil Gonzales

Instead of trying to establish a presence in far-flung countries, the University of California, Berkeley, wants to bring nations closer to it—in Richmond.

[contextly_sidebar id=”OQz5tZRXeJ7ekbdas08ttDsMyDPYzvjn”]The university plans to build an international complex for higher education, research and technology not far from its main campus. The Berkeley Global Campus—a 5.5 million-square-foot project on 134 acres that the university owns in Richmond—would host academic programs from around the world and provide a living laboratory exploring innovative solutions to myriad human and environmental problems.

The project’s vision “is unabashedly bold,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said during a presentation to the Academic Senate late October. “It will be a new form of international hub where an exclusive group of some of the world’s leading universities and high-tech companies will work side by side with us in a campus setting.”

At the same time, the project figures to further ignite real estate development and investment in Richmond just as the city is experiencing an industrial resurgence. The project’s effect could prove similar to the transformation of San Francisco’s Mission Bay following UC San Francisco’s expansion into that neighborhood.

The Berkeley Global Campus “is a very important project to the city,” Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay said. “It will put Richmond on the global map.”

The project would rise out of Richmond’s southern shoreline, which was the site of the biggest economic engine in city history—the shipyards of World War II—but is now an underutilized industrial waterfront.

Until recently, the area had been eyed for a second research campus of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a joint venture with UC Berkeley. But that plan hit a major snag in 2013 when the lab lost out on federal funding.

However, the setback turned into this latest quest now headed by the university but still involving the lab.

The new effort “will be designed and launched in collaboration with a set of partner global universities—universities that will help us build new facilities and support new programs,” Dirks said.

The project would offer U.S. and foreign students undergraduate and graduate-level academic programs focused on global governance, ethics, political economy, cultural and international relations and practical engagement, he said. At the core of this global college could be a prestigious scholarship offering that “would bring together top students with exceptional leadership potential from around the globe for a fully paid two-year residential program,” he said.

In addition, the global campus would bring the public and private sectors together to find answers to “21st-century challenges in energy, computing, the environment, health and the global economy,” Dirks said. For example, a partnership could develop with UCSF to tackle global health issues. Other partnerships could take on robotics and artificial intelligence.

The project would represent a change in a model in which U.S. universities look to open branches abroad, Dirks also pointed out.

“Until now, American universities seeking to expand their global profile have used a single model: establish a physical presence overseas through the construction of a foreign campus or the opening of small, consular-style offices,” he said. “But we have now determined a way to launch a new kind of global engagement by staying right here at home.”

Moreover, building a world university in UC Berkeley’s own backyard rather than setting up a satellite across the oceans would provide American scholars the academic freedom and other protections that they might not necessarily have in another country, he said. The global campus “will be a true safe harbor—a term that universities with branch campuses in mainland Asia and the Middle East use with considerable anxiety,” Dirks said.

The project could break ground in 2016 and take about 40 years to build completely. The total cost will be $1 billion or more, according to Terezia Nemeth, UC Berkeley’s development manager for the global campus.

UC Berkeley “is looking at a number of avenues” to fund the project, including relying on philanthropists, collaborating with participating foreign universities and establishing an infrastructure-financing district with Richmond, Nemeth said. But the university “is not going to use [main campus] funds,” particularly at a time when the institution continues to face serious budget constraints.

For the host city, the project’s potential return of investment is huge. Given that it would be a four-decade process, the project is “the kind of thing that can be a job and economic generator for some time to come,” Lindsay said. But at least in the near term, the project would generate an estimated 10,000 jobs on site and another 13,000 supporting positions.

Besides generating jobs for scientists and researchers and bringing students, the global campus would lead to the goods and services that all those people need or want such as restaurants, financial institutions and entertainment establishments, said Darien Louie, the executive director of the Oakland-based East Bay Economic Development Alliance.

The project creates “a new anchor institution” benefiting Richmond as well as the rest of the East Bay, Louie said.

At build-out, Lindsay said, the total economic benefit to Richmond could reach $4 billion.

The project could become “the single-most important economic development for Richmond since the shipyards,” he said.

Shipbuilding operations during WWII brought tens of thousands of new residents to Richmond and made the city a boomtown. In more recent years, Richmond is seeing a renaissance of sorts with increased development and investment activity, particularly in the industrial or warehouse/manufacturing arenas.

The arrival of the global campus could just accelerate that. “It is going to be a new city that’s coming to Richmond’s southern shoreline,” Lindsay said.

“The build-out could explode that area so that it becomes just as efficient as Mission Bay,” Louie added.

Propelled by the construction of UCSF’s research campus and hospital, Mission Bay has evolved from a run-down outpost in San Francisco into an up-and-coming district of vibrant residential, commercial and other development.

The vision for the global campus in Richmond recalls the dramatic change in Mission Bay with “the creation of a new district within an existing urban area” led by a public university, Nemeth said.

But UCSF worked only on its buildings in Mission Bay while the private sector has developed the rest of the area, she said. In contrast, UC Berkeley is trying to do both in Richmond with public and private collaboration.

Image courtesy of WRT Design