The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has agreed to take over management of a $27 million state-funded technology center that has struggled to cover expenses despite its central role in helping shape the city's emerging technology sector.
The Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise facility — a high-end, 3-D visualization center and tech company incubator — was built by the state 10 years ago in the university's Research Park but has been managed by an independent commission and has been responsible for securing its own funding for operations.
The University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors on Thursday signed off on a plan for UL-Lafayette to assume oversight at the facility effective Jan. 1.
The agreement also envisions the eventual dissolution of the LITE Commission and the transfer of ownership of the facility to the university.
UL-Lafayette Vice President for Research, Innovation and Economic Development Ramesh Kolluru, whose office will oversee operations at LITE, said the agreement will allow staff there to worry less about the cost of building upkeep and focus more on the core mission of nurturing the area's technology sector.
"We see LITE as a hugely successful component of our economic development landscape here in the region," said Kolluru, who also serves on the LITE Commission.
In recent years, LITE has had a tough time covering basic operating expenses at the 70,000-square-foot facility as state funding gradually dropped from more than $2 million in 2011 until it was zeroed out last year.
But the facility has been credited with helping lure a number of major technology companies to Lafayette, including CGI, Enquero and Perficient, and is playing what many say is a critical role in nurturing tech startups.
"What we have created is an economic development hub for anyone who wants to accelerate or start their business," said LITE Commission Chairman Douglas Menefee.
Kolluru said he expects few changes in LITE's focus after the university assumes oversight.
"The mission is not changing," he said. "The university is committed to economic development, and the university knows how to do economic development."
Kolluru and Menefee said the new agreement will open the door at LITE for much deeper involvement with UL-Lafayette researchers and students.
It will also lessen the burden of maintenance and upkeep because LITE will just be one building among scores already being managed by the university's maintenance staff.
"We are coming in and providing greater support through all of our infrastructure and expertise throughout the university," Kolluru said.
The agreement approved Thursday is the first step in the transfer process.
Legislative approval is required to dissolve the LITE Commission and shift ownership of the facility to UL-Lafayette.
As part of the agreement, the commission has pledged to support the legislation in next year's Legislative session.