A group of technology boosters unveiled plans Thursday to develop 32 acres near the University of Minnesota into a cluster of buildings to support private research and commercialization of technology.

The project, named the Minnesota Science Park, would be near the U's Biomedical Discovery District and could cost more than $750 million over many years to reach its full ambition. The nonprofit group behind the project aims to start construction of a first building within 18 months, though it is still in the early planning stage.

The U's district encompasses space for scientists to do research in areas such as diabetes, cancer and other diseases, and the Minnesota Science Park believes its proximity will help provide access to the university's faculty and resources.

"We believe that this access will encourage an environment for collaboration and interaction and bring together the elements of science, talent, and capital needed to create jobs and advance the mission of the university," said Roberta Cordano, a health care consultant who is helping launch the effort.

Other founders of the nonprofit group developing the idea are Peter Bianco, director of life science development at law firm Nilan Johnson Lewis, and John Cuningham, founder of Cuningham Group Architecture.

This is not the first time Minnesotans pushed for a research park. In St. Paul, there's bioscience incubator University Enterprise Laboratories. And in Pine Island, north of Rochester, a developer is working on a biobusiness park there.

But supporters said the science park's location near the U's growing Biomedical Discovery District and its strong leadership team could help propel the project forward. The proposed land for the Minnesota Science Park is owned by multiple private owners, who Cordano said are aware of the project.

The park's total square footage would be 900,000 to 1 million square feet, Cuningham said during a panel at the Association of University Research Parks International Conference.

The Minnesota Science Park's first building would be about 60,000 square feet.

Founders said they have already received "strong interest" from potential tenants for about half that space so far. Cuningham said park backers have been talking to groups that focus on areas ranging from artificial cartilage to agriculturally based carbon fuels.

Bianco said he hopes to see construction activity on the site of the first building within 18 months, but said the group is still working on things like figuring out what it will cost.

"We are going to build when we have the right business model and right people to move forward," Bianco said. "We sense strong momentum now."

The project's western boundary would be 25th Avenue SE., and its eastern border would be Malcolm Avenue.

The University of Minnesota is not an investor in the project and is not directly involved, the founders said. The founders said they would try to affiliate with the U and other partners "to formalize relationships to increase the likelihood of success in serving as an accelerator."

But getting to this point has been a lengthy process, and Bianco cautioned that the entire Minnesota Science Park could be a 20-year project.

Founders said the initial discussions began three years ago, but efforts slowed down and the entire project went on hold in January 2009 because of the global economic crisis. This past January, the Minnesota Science Park became a nonprofit, and work picked up toward making the park a reality.

Cuningham called it "a work in progress." There are large grain elevators on the property as well as railroad lines that may have contaminated parts of the area.

"All of these roadblocks are opportunities," Cuningham said. "If they didn't exist, the land would be gone."

Wendy Lee • 612-673-1712