UMD’s M Square recognized as top university research park

By Nate Rabner

The University of Maryland Research Park (M Square) was recognized by the Association of University Research Parks (AURP) with the organization's 2015 Outstanding Research Park award at a ceremony held in early October.

M Square stood out among an estimated 150 AURP members for its contribution to job creation, as well as its role in fulfilling the university’s research mission, said AURP Chief Executive Officer Eileen Walker.

The members of the research park “do a great job, and I’m really very pleased that they got some recognition,” she said.

M Square hosts several federal agencies, including the NOAA Center for Weather and Climate Prediction, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the UMD/FDA Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity. Defense technology company Raytheon has a presence in the park, as does the American Center of Physics. Several university organizations and programs, including UMD's Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC) are also headquartered at M Square.

All told, between 3,000 and 4,000 people now work at M Square, according to Brian Darmody, University of Maryland associate vice president for corporate and foundation relations and a former AURP executive. That workforce is expected to grow to 6,500 across the park’s eventual 2 million square feet.

Walker observed that since AURP was founded in 1986, university research parks have evolved to support innovators and startups and share corporate projects more openly with students and professors.  “More people have the opportunity to contribute their own ideas,” Walker said. 

The M Square research park will continue its own evolution in the coming years. Future development plans include an Innovation District along Paint Branch Parkway, bridging the space between the research centers at M Square and the academic buildings of the main campus.

According to Darmody,researchers, students and businesses will all benefit from amenities and infrastructure that are planned near M Square.  The Purple Line light rail expected to open in 2021 will become “a major integration agent with the campus,” he said, with free transit between the park, the innovation district and the main campus for members of the university.

Additionally, the Whole Foods Market and residential development under construction in Riverdale Park will link up with M Square via a bridge over the MARC train tracks, and the 370-apartment complex proposed for River Road near the College Park Metro Station will create a community at the research park’s door.

“We are going to transform M Square into a vibrant and connected research park for the 21st century, complete with residential, retail and recreational amenities,” said Ken Ulman, university chief strategy officer, in a statement.

“We are also very much focused on strengthening connections from the research park to the main campus through the University of Maryland's innovation district, which will be anchored by our new hotel and conference center” at Baltimore Avenue and Paint Branch Parkway.

The collective developments will make M Square an even more attractive site for government and corporate research centers, Darmody said. They build on the University of Maryland’s strong reputation – it is No. 41 in US News & World Report’s global rankings, a jump from 51 last year.

“In terms of a major research university in the Washington region … we are it,” Darmody concluded.