An early concept to build out the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition campus in downtown Pensacola is moving ahead after conceptual approval Thursday.
The plan calls for turning a currently vacant — and highly visible — parking lot on East Garden Street into a 46,000-square-foot lab and office space to expand the technology company’s capabilities for years to come.
The research center already occupies both a two-story and a three-story building the next city block over on South Alcaniz and East Romana streets, but this expansion would extend to another block, creating a more campus-like feel that also includes a parking lot, an outdoor field for clinical trials and outdoor greenery space.
“One of the main goals of this design is to fit within the greater urban context bridging between the downtown district and the historic district off Alcaniz,” DAG Architects representative Jesse Kirkland said at an Architectural Review Board meeting Thursday.
The expansion would come at an estimated price tag of $20 million and would bring a third pillar to the campus of Healthspan Resilience and Performance Research, in addition to its current work in artificial intelligence and robotics. That new pillar would mean the staff could study things such as how technology could continue to improve human performance.
The Healthspan Resilience and Performance team already has about a dozen employees working within existing offices, but the new building would allow that team to triple over the next five years.
The ARB unanimously approved the early concepts Thursday — save for board member Derek Salter who recused himself due to a conflict of interest — which allows the company to move forward in further design work.
IHMC Director of Architectural and Engineering Services Phil Turner said the team is shortlisting construction firms right now to help with cost estimating, phased purchases and expedited delivery of items to start construction in fall. That firm is expected to be selected by early May.
Architect Brian Spencer, who is also working on the early design, said there was very deliberate design work put into this building — because of how prominent the site is in downtown — to transition from the downtown feel to the more historic Alcaniz area while still fitting in with IHMC’s other building designs.
Early plans call for a “street plaza” across Alcaniz between the new building and the existing IHMC sites, which will include landscaping and a possible future road diet to expand the sidewalk area, Spencer said. He likened the idea to the recently completed Jefferson Street road diet around the East Garden District.
“That road project was city funded, much of that was a publicly funded project, perhaps this could merit approaching the City Council and looking for some help,” he said.
If design and construction stays on track, IHMC staff has said the expansion could be complete as early as 2024.
Emma Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-480-6979.