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Hillsborough County approves $5.2 million grant for USF research hub at University Mall

The Hillsborough County Commission is giving a $5.2 million grant to the University of South Florida’s new Institute of Applied Engineering, which will reside in University Mall as part of an ongoing effort to revitalize the area. [SARA DINATALE | Times]
Published Jul. 1

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Commission is giving a $5.2 million grant to the University of South Florida's new Institute of Applied Engineering.

The new center will reside in the University Mall as part of an ongoing effort to revitalize the area. It is intended to expand USF's research and development partnership with U.S. Special Operations Command while bringing more technology players into the neighborhood.

"I'm very excited to see a major stimulus effort ... and to also see the opportunity for high-paying jobs,'' Commissioner Kimberly Overman said at a recent meeting.

The new county funding, which will be dispersed over three years, will go toward acquiring equipment for the institute, said Robert Bishop, dean of the university's College of Engineering. The institute aims to offer the Department of Defense, and more specifically Special Operations Command, quick access to prototypes and solutions to engineering problems.

Areas of focus will include artificial intelligence, cyber security, data science and more.

The current motto for the institute is "seeking truth at high velocity," Bishop added.

The project builds off of the university's existing relationship with Special Operations Command, streamlining their research collaborations that for the last few years has grown through internships at SOFWERX, said Tim Baxter, director of the university's SOFWERX operations.

In fall 2016, four students participated in the university-led internship program at the SOFWERX tech hub in Ybor City. This summer, 35 interns from nine institutions are taking part in developing affordable cube satellites for Special Operations Command, Baxter added.

It's this kind of collaboration that the new institute will foster, and the kind that will support the University Mall area in general, said Chris Bowen, chief development strategist for RD Management, which is overseeing University Mall's redevelopment.

The site has received a new mixed use zoning designation that will allow for the construction of hotel, apartment and retail space around the research hub anchoring it all, Bowen said. The goal is to provide space for new technology, life sciences and medical innovation while also propping up existing work being done in neighboring sites like the medical district, the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital and the University of South Florida more broadly.

Building up this corridor, currently dubbed the "Uptown District," will also attract a "wide range of compatible players," Bowen said, from military partners to corporate and medical entities.

The Institute for Applied Engineering is expected to open its doors later this fall.

Contact Ileana Najarro at inajarro@tampabay.com or Follow @IleanaNajarro.

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