Tower to rise at UD’s STAR Campus next spring

Talks continue with engineering, IT, wellness concerns; tower will also include residences Suburban Newark is about to get a skyline.

Developer Ernie Delle Donne, president of Delle Donne & Associates, standing inside the former Chrysler plant during its transformation into the College of Health Sciences building on the STAR Campus.(Photo: JENNIFER CORBETT/THE NEWS JOURNAL)

A 10-story tower that will host a mix of high-tech and residential tenants will begin rising next spring at the University of Delaware’s Science, Technology & Advanced Research Campus, its developer said Tuesday.

The project – what developer Ernie Delle Donne has called the “hood ornament” on the 272-acre site – will represent the third phase of construction at the growing South College Avenue adjunct campus. He expects the tower, which will be built entirely by in-state workers, to cost between $60 million and $65 million. That’s at least $10 million more than the first two phases combined, he said.

Delle Donne, who is developing 18 acres at the STAR campus, said he has signed letters of intent from two tenants in hand. Interest from others, he said, is serious enough to have delayed his plans to break ground on the tower this fall until next spring.

Delle Donne wouldn’t discuss specific tenants, saying he has signed confidentiality agreements. He identified them generically as engineering, information technology and wellness companies, along with an academic concern. The building will also have a “residential component” that “is driven by people that are currently or prospectively working on the STAR campus,” he said.

The construction delay has a twofold purpose. The level of tenant interest has convinced Delle Donne he can increase the size of the tower from 125,000 square feet to 200,000 square feet, and build a full 10 stories. Initial plans called for a tower “up to” 10 stories high. That means plans for the tower he planned to start this fall must be significantly modified.

That decided, Delle Donne said he’ll keep the door open until Jan. 1 to meet with potential tenants so that if talks become serious, he can take additional square footage requirements into account in his plans. Delle Donne said he can wait that long and still probably break ground in the spring.

Della Donne has been adjusting on the fly since he first tackled the STAR work, he said. “We weren’t done designing the first component, and we had to modify it in midstream,” he said. “And then after we modified it, another 30,000-foot tenant came and said, well, we want to be in that, too.”

Delle Donne said he and builder Stephen Mockbee of Bancroft Construction Company will build the additional 75,000 square feet on ‘spec’ – that is, completely out of pocket.

An artist's conception of the tower to be built at the University of Delaware's STAR Campus next spring. The drawing, the latest available, is dated and being revised, developer Ernie Delle Donne said. (Photo: Rendering By Tevebaugh Associates)

Building beyond the agreements in hand is his standard practice – if the interest is there, Delle Donne said.

“I always like to stay about 50,000 to 70,000 feet ahead of the curve,” he said. “So far, I have not been able to stay ahead of the curve, because we’ve been leasing quicker than I can design it.”

Mockbee, who has worked with Delle Donne for more than 20 years, couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday. But he is of a like mind, telling The News Journal in 2013, “We believe if they build it, they will come. Ernie is the type of developer … when he feels there’s a niche market, and he feels there’s an opportunity, he invests, and we follow.”

Interest has been driven, Delle Donne said, by the mix of tenants who’ve moved into the first two buildings.

“The momentum that’s been generated by the College of Health Sciences going down there, the [Delaware Technology Park’s] wet lab incubator and obviously, SevOne … I literally can’t fulfill the requests quick enough,” Delle Donne said.

It’s a good problem to have, he said.

“We couldn’t be more pleased,” Delle Donne said. “And it’s a testament to the University of Delaware’s author – and sponsorship to come up with this idea – the nexis of academia and research, science along with private enterprise, is just genius on their part.”

The STAR Campus is also home to a Bloom Energy fuel cell manufacturing center, established on the south side in 2013. SevOne, a network development company that earlier this year signed a 13-year lease for 50,000 square feet of space at the site’s newest addition, cited co-location at STAR with Bloom as a factor in its decision.

The first three phases are reflecting what UD officials have envisioned all along: a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship between complementary elements that include a variety of research entities and facilities and residences, a hotel and a conference center, among other possibilities.

The tower will abut the west side of the College of Health Sciences complex on the repurposed site, once home to a Chrysler auto plant. The Health Sciences building faces north, toward what UD hopes will eventually be an expanded Newark train station. In February, state officials and Amtrak reached tentative agreement on a new plan for the station now being evaluated by the Norfolk Southern Corporation.

All three Delle Donne buildings will be interconnected. “You’ll be able to walk, inside, from one building to the other,” Delle Donne said.

As with the other two phases, only Delaware workers will be employed on the project. “No out-of-staters will be invited to the table,” Delle Donne said. “That’s what makes it so neat. It’s more of an organic, internal growth type of opportunity.”

Contact William H. McMichael at (302) 324-2812 or bmcmichael@delawareonline.com. On Twitter: @billmcmichael