It’s an idea so grand that some academics are comparing it to the creation of GM in Oshawa.
The Durham Learning and Business District, or dLAB, is the 150-acre area just north of Highway 401 and it’s gaining its foothold at the border of Oshawa and Whitby.
“This is as bold an idea and maybe as significant as the creation of GM,” says Greg Murphy, dean school of media, art and design at Durham College.
“So GM compelled Durham Region for 100 years, the next 100 years is likely to be compelled by dLAB.”
Murphy is currently consulting on one of the possible buildings for dLAB.
The Durham Region Works Committee has officially set the completion date for the expansion of Consumers Drive connecting Thickson Road to Thornton Road for 2017.
The completion of this road is what determines the timeline for construction on what’s known as dLAB West by the landowner, River Oaks Group.
“What’s coming and when it’s coming is all very much tied into that road because we can’t actually build without it,” says Marvin Green, president of River Oaks Group.
dLAB is a partnership between Durham College, UOIT, Trent University, the land developers, and Durham Region.
When the GM Oshawa plant was most successful it employed about 40,000 people. Green hopes with the combined population of students, staff, and faculty between the three-partnered schools there will be a market of roughly the same size.
Green plans for dLAB West to have up to 12 buildings ranging from 60,000 to 80,000 square feet. Half are devoted to retail and office space and the other half are likely to be academic institutions.
Green says he wants to help develop what Durham Region already offers. He believes Durham has always had strong agriculture and manufacturing industries.
“We want to help grow things that are already there, where the talent is already there,” he says.
The idea is to have all these different buildings close to each other and have a large variety of businesses and institutes so they can work together and grow together.
DTZ, a global property services company, is in charge of leasing the future buildings and are looking for companies interested in working with the college and university partners.
“This is a deliberate attempt to create something called mid-density,” says Green. “It’s close to the street where the buildings and streets are designed to encourage people to get together.”
The institutions are currently under discussion and are being geared toward the partnership with DC, UOIT, and Trent. Some of the ideas for the institutions under discussion are healthcare, media, food, advanced manufacturing, and a new entity called the Ontario Beverage Institute (OBI).
“The concept is that you’ve got five or six different disciplines that allow for serendipitous innovation,” says Murphy.
The most developed idea, however, is the OBI. This institute would be a place to study and brew beers and ciders. The building would have areas dedicated to research and innovation and could possibly have a brewpub.
The other institutes will be designed in a similar fashion featuring ways to study a certain discipline.
“What we’re looking for is places where opportunities for learning and training and employment can all happen in one place and it happens because all these different things are together in the same building,” says Green.
As dLAB starts to rise from the open fields at the borders where Oshawa and Whitby meet adjacent to Highway 401 the opportunities will rise for students and residents of Durham Region and truly decide whether it will be as grand as GM was.