Innovation Center to be on Ole Miss campus, instead of in old Walmart

BY ERROL CASTENS
Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – The University of Mississippi will build its Innovation Center business incubator near other research facilities on campus instead of at the former Walmart building as originally planned.

The new location will put the Innovation Center near the site of the proposed Ole Miss Research Park. Originally planned for property across Highway 6/278 from the main campus, the research park's initial buildings now are projected to be built on the south edge of the campus just off Coliseum Drive and Hathorn Road.

Dr. Syd Spain, executive director of the Ole Miss Research Park, said incubator directors at other institutions urged Ole Miss officials to locate the incubator on campus.

“Their compelling argument to us was that incubator companies which are in university research parks have been more successful than those which are located elsewhere,” Spain said. “The early-stage companies are able to learn from more mature research park companies.”

The new location will replace the current Medicinal Plant Gardens, which will be moved to other nearby space.

“They're going to move the gardens farther back toward the marijuana field,” said Ole Miss spokesman Mitchell Diggs, referring to the nation's only legal cannabis crop, grown for researchers nationwide under contract with the National Institutes on Drug Abuse.

The university will use a HUD grant of about $1 million – originally planned for the renovation of the Walmart building – to reestablish the gardens, where other potentially medicinal herbs are grown, harvested, preserved and shared with researchers at Ole Miss and other institutions.

Future uses of the old Walmart building are still undetermined, Diggs said. It has been used for purposes as diverse as Campus Residence Move-In Day headquarters, temporary office space while the Sports Information Department's permanent home was being renovated and even a resource center for Hurricane Katrina refugees.

“It's been very useful swing space,” Diggs said.

The Innovation Center is being developed in cooperation with the city of Oxford. Oxford's existing incubator, operated by the North Mississippi Enterprise Initiative, is approaching full capacity.