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BioBricks & Mortar: Mar 2, 2009


With Gov. Crist on Hand, and $600M from Taxpayers in Hand, Scripps Florida Opens for Business

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) led state and local dignitaries Feb. 26 in cutting a ceremonial ribbon marking the formal opening of the $187 million, 350,000-square-foot Scripps Florida research campus — a project made possible with $600 million in state and local government funds.

Scripps Florida, part of the Scripps Research Institute headquartered in La Jolla, Calif., is located next to the Florida Atlantic University campus in the Palm Beach County community of Jupiter, Fla. Scripps Florida focuses on basic biomedical science, drug discovery, and technology research for conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and AIDS.

What we can promise is that many important things will happen in those buildings. We just don't know what," Scripps president Richard Lerner told the crowd of more than 900 attending the ceremony, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "It's the unpredictability of science that makes it so exciting and so interesting."

Scripps Florida has 300 scientists, technicians and other employees working in Jupiter, Harry Orf, vice president of scientific operations there, told the newspaper. The campus' three buildings are decorated in tropical colors, with a sail-shaped spire atop the center building representing the DNA molecule.

The research institute had promised the county and state it would create 545 jobs by 2013 in return for the $600 million incentive package.

Crist's predecessor, Jeb Bush, joined with Palm Beach County officials in recruiting Scripps back in 2003. The original deal called for $300 million for the research institute from Florida, while the county would build Scripps' new facility. The county spent $100 million toward developing the campus at Mecca Farms, an orange grove west of Palm Beach Gardens, until a federal judge torpedoed that plan in 2005, siding with environmentalists in ruling that the project's potential environmental impact had not been adequately studied. Scrambling to keep Scripps from locating elsewhere in the Sunshine State, county officials agreed to approve a site for the research institute at FAU in the mixed-use, master planned Abacoa development in Jupiter.

Crist used the occasion to declare 2009 "the Year of Science in Florida," and his state "one of the top bioscience centers in the world," adding: "Now more than ever, as we face growing economic challenges, we must support the growing biomedical and life sciences industries."

Pfizer Removes 650K-Sq. Ft. Tower from New York City's Growing Sublease Market

Pfizer has taken its 650,000-square-foot New York City office tower at 685 Third Ave. in Manhattan off the sublease market and is no longer seeking tenants for the space, after opting instead to fill the building with employees it will inherit when it closes its pending $68 billion acquisition of Wyeth, Crain's New York Business reported. Pfizer, which is headquartered elsewhere in Manhattan, at 235 E. 42nd St., didn't return a call at the publication's deadline seeking comment.

However, Pfizer is still seeking to sublet a total of about 175,000 square feet at two other Manhattan buildings, 605 Third Ave. and 220 E. 42nd St. Last summer, the world's largest drug company vacated space in a cost-cutting move designed to respond to several challenges that include patent expirations for its key drugs, and its failure to develop new blockbuster medicines.

At the end of January, there was 9 million square feet of sublease space available in Manhattan, almost triple the amount in the year-earlier period, while leasing volume last January hit the lowest level in at least six years, plunging 47 percent compared with January 2008, according to Cushman & Wakefield statistics cited by Crain's.

Detroit's TechTown in Talks with UK, Swedish, Hungarian Stem Cell Teams Eyeing New Commercialization Center

Detroit's TechTown is in early stages of discussions with stem cell research teams in Sweden, the United Kingdom and Hungary about opening up offices in the Wayne State University biopark's newly announced Stem Cell Commercialization Facility, executive director Randal Charlton told the weekly online magazine Model D.

The research and technology park of Wayne State University is teaming up with Wayne County to develop the $3 million facility, to open within 2,508 square feet of TechOne, the 100,000-square-foot former Chevrolet Creative Services auto design facility, converted into the first of as many as three planned buildings that will eventually comprise TechTown. [BRN, Feb. 23].

Forest City Enterprises Unveils Revised $398M Med Mart/Convention Center Plan for Downtown Cleveland

Forest City Enterprises officials Thursday unveiled a new $398 million plan for a 446,000-square-foot riverfront convention center and 146,000-square-foot "medical mart" it wants to build in downtown Cleveland, behind Tower City Center, claiming the new plan would save Cuyahoga County taxpayers $130 million — a savings FCE hopes will persuade county officials and their private partners to backtrack from tentative plans to locate the project elsewhere in downtown, the Plain Dealer reported.

The medical mart — designed to serve medical professionals and buyers of hospital technology, furniture, and fixtures — would be the linchpin of a project that would also include a 300,000-square-foot exhibition hall, and 146,000 square feet of other conference space. The county and partner Merchandise Mart Properties contend that the mart would draw new health care conventions and meetings to Cleveland, thus reviving downtown hotels and restaurants, and encouraging job-creating investment in Cleveland's biotechnology industry.

Forest City's revised project includes several changes from a previous $533 million version: An $18 million plan to rebuild Huron Road to accommodate truck access would be scrapped. The height of the project would be cut from five to three stories, at a $31 million savings. The second level, bridging to Tower City's current food court, would hold most of the medical mart. The lobby, a 35,000-square-foot ballroom and expanses of patios overlooking the Cuyahoga River, would be on the top floor. New parking spots would be built by FCE for conventioneers and others, at a $12 million cost to the developer. The weakening economy has reduced earlier construction cost projections.

The cost of FCE's original version scared off county commissioners enough to prefer a cheaper alternative by MMPI for a $425 million convention center and medical mart located under and alongside Malls B and C downtown.

Forest City CEO Charles Ratner complained to the Plain Dealer that the county was unfair because it had not met with his company in several months. Had it done so, Ratner said, he could have convinced the county his company could build a cheaper convention center: "If they had given us their [specifications] and said, 'What can you do?' this is what we would have shown them," Ratner said, referring to the revised project.

However, MMPI questioned the validity of Forest City's cost estimates, which are more than $10 million cheaper than MMPI estimated in at least two cases. MMPI Senior Vice President Mark Falanga told the newspaper FCE's revised project was a nonstarter, and that he was "suspicious" that other estimates from Forest City could be low.

MMPI and Forest City will meet March 10.

Madison, Wis., City Council OKs Application for $3.5M from US EDA for Bio-Agriculture Incubator

The City Council of Madison, Wis., has approved an application seeking $3.5 million in unspent US Economic Development Administration funds originally intended for assistance to victims of last year's Midwestern floods toward creation of a new bio-agriculture incubator at the Wisconsin BioAg Gateway, on the city's southeast side, the Capital Times of Madison reported.

The incubator is designed to assist bio-agriculture startups by offering lower rents and shared resources such as greenhouses, technology, and field testing sites.

The federal grant current requires a 25 percent local match, which would amount to about $1.2 million in city investment in the incubator, plus the cost of transferring the land to the nonprofit Madison Development Corp., which has signed on as a partner with the city as required by EDA.

Several council members said they supported the project but warned that more information would be necessary before the city put any of its own money toward the incubator. A supermajority, or 15 council votes, would be required to modify the city's budget and commit the city to any project funding.

"There are a number of supermajority votes that will be required, so make no mistake about it, this is not the end of it," Alderman Tim Bruer said, according to the Times.

Michael Gay, a business development liaison for the city who has been a leader on the project, told the newspaper an analysis will be done in coming weeks to determine whether the city can use tax increment financing, which uses net property tax gains from redevelopment, to pay off the expense. The city also has the option to make the incubator a capital expense, which would be paid back through general tax revenue.

The Scan

Omicron's Emergence

The World Health Organization has called Omicron a SARS-CoV-2 "variant of concern," the Los Angeles Times writes.

Not as Much

Merck's pill to treat COVID-19 reduces the risk of hospitalization and death among COVID-19 patients by less than previously reported, the New York Times says.

Bats That Hang Together

Discover magazine writes that researchers have found a social microbiome among vampire bats.

PLOS Papers on CEWAS, Simian Varicella Virus Transcriptome, Dermatomyositis Markers

In PLOS this week: multi-omic approach to home in on genetic risk variants, transcriptomic analysis of the simian varicella virus, and more.