Investor buys city building for CMU tech companies

A New York investor is feeling bullish on Carnegie Mellon robotics; it is a $22.5 million feeling.

Last month, New York investor Ira Gorman bought the downtown Clark Building at 717 Liberty Avenue for his company, Singularity Clark L.P. He expressed a desire to fill the historical edifice with Carnegie Mellon robotics graduates’ start-up companies.

“As time goes on, the technological innovations happen exponentially faster,” Gorman said. He cited the recent flood of start-up companies coming from Carnegie Mellon and said he expects the number of robotics start-up companies from Carnegie Mellon to jump in the coming decade.

An August 21 University press release highlights the Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation’s success in helping establish 14 companies based on University technology in the 2006 fiscal year. This was up from eight the previous year.

The press release states that these start-ups “represent a range of industries and technology
areas,” including green chemistry, training-simulation game development, and industrial control.
“Pittsburgh is going to be the center for artificial intelligence and robotics,” stated Gorman in the July 14 article “Clark Building fetches $22M” in the Pittsburgh Business Times. “Pittsburgh will be to artificial intelligence what Silicon Valley is to chips.”

The Clark Building is a 23-story building in the downtown Pittsburgh Cultural District. Among the tenants are a charter school, the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, and various jewelers.

“It is a high-visibility building with great show rooms,” Gorman said.

According to a July 14 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette titled “N.Y. investor buys Clark Building,” the Clark Building is the fifth major office building to be bought by a New York investor in the past year and a half.

Carnegie Mellon students are optimistic about the purchase. “You may help raise your company’s profile in these buildings that, when visited, would give an impression of success,” said Sarjoun Skaff, a Ph.D. student in robotics and an aspiring entrepreneur.

Gorman is hoping that such entrepreneurs and their companies will take advantage of his patronage as he puts his money where his mind is.

Behind Gorman’s desk on the 23rd floor of the Clark Building, a one-time regional headquarters for Warner Bros., the row of science books with authors such as Ray Kurzweil are a testament to the man’s faith in robotics as an investment.

“[Some of] these books mention Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon all the time.” Gorman said.

Carnegie Mellon director of Enterprise Creation Robert Lowe has helped several start-up companies find homes.

“There is an incredible over-supply of office space for start-ups in Pittsburgh,” he said. “The companies I’ve helped place in offices, including companies I’ve founded myself, have all been in one of three districts, the Strip/Lawrenceville, Oakland, and the South Side. Large warehouses and industrial facilities converted into office buildings typically are better suited for such companies.”

Gorman stands by his purchase.

“We will be very accommodating to Carnegie Mellon start-ups,” referring to those companies wishing to rent spaces from him.

He also expressed a desire to speak with Carnegie Mellon officials in the future.