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BioRegion Real Estate: May 29, 2009

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Montgomery County, Md., Planning Board Rejects Denser and Scaled-Down Alternatives for Gaithersburg ‘Science City'

The Montgomery County Planning Board has turned back several efforts to reconfigure the development plan for the Belward Farm in Gaithersburg, Md. — the largest undeveloped parcel in and around the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center — and is instead forging ahead with plans for a 'Science City' of up to 4.5 million square feet of buildings up to 143 feet high, according to Maryland Community Newspapers.

The 107-acre Belward Farm, off Darnestown and Muddy Branch roads, is a lynchpin in the plan to transform the 900-acre Shady Grove district into a live-work research hub with 20 million square feet of laboratory, office, and commercial space, projected to support 60,000 jobs over the next 30 and 40 years.

Johns Hopkins University, which owns Belward, sought up to 6.5 million square feet of development on Belward to create a research campus with enough critical mass to draw federal health and scientific research agencies.

David McDonough, senior director of development oversight in Hopkins's real estate division, told the planning board that the extra transit trips wrought by the additional development would make federal transit officials more likely to approve funding for the Corridor Cities Transitway, a proposed mass transit line that would form the backbone of the city's Gaithersburg West section.

And since federal agencies plan in broad, long-range time horizons, small projects are less likely to win funding from Washington, he added, according to the newspaper group: "It makes us more competitive. Size matters … If you want to have their interest, then you need to have a plan that entices them."

However, Planning Commissioner Jean Cryor disagreed with McDonough, saying the volume of potential riders will sway Washington less than the political clout of Hopkins and other advocates of funding for CCT: "If [we] think it's just going to be on numbers, we're just kidding ourselves," according to MCN.

Also rejected was an alternative plan by the group Reasonable Development that called for no more than 2 million square feet of construction. They also want the CCT to get to Muddy Branch Road by heading north up Great Seneca Highway, not across Belward. However, the commissioners refused to consider giving Hopkins a transfer of development rights so it could instead boost development at its existing Montgomery County campus, and picked apart the group's traffic projections.

"It makes little sense to have several transit stops in an area that isn't going to have the density to make the transit system cost-effective. Certainly, we won't get any federal aid for that," Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson said, according to MCN.

County planners will incorporate the bio campus concept into their Gaithersburg West master plan, with the goal of accounting for a future transit system and addressing density, roadways, congestion, and other infrastructure needs.

The County Planning Board has two more work sessions scheduled for the Gaithersburg West master plan: May 28 and June 1.


Celera Closing Its 41K-Sq. Ft. Outpost in Rockville, Md., Company's HQ Until Last Year

Celera is shuttering its last remaining operation in Maryland's Montgomery County — its 41,000-square-foot operation in Rockville, Md., which is set to close by the end of the third quarter, the Washington Business Journal reported.

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The company will lay off 20 of its 25 employees in the region, leaving only a handful of employees in the Rockville site that was Celera's headquarters until last year, when the company moved to Alameda. Only one or two employees might stay in Rockville, while the rest, working on lung cancer diagnostic tests, could move to the West Coast, the newspaper reported.

At its peak in the region, Celera employed 550 people and maintained a 220,000-square-foot HQ facility, making the company one of Maryland's largest life sciences companies.


R&D Cluster at UQ Transitions Queensland, Australia, 'From Bricks to Brains'

Australian officials joined life sciences leaders this week in opening a A$30 million (about $24 million) R&D cluster at the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology. The cluster consists of three facilities — the Biologics Facility, the Metabolomics Facility, and the Australian National Fabrication Facility — that employ a total 30 staffers.

The three "are a major step forward for research and development in Queensland … This investment exemplifies the Queensland economy's transition from 'bricks to brains',” said Australia's Treasurer and Minister for Employment and Economic Development Andrew Fraser, according to the Queensland Business Review of Spring Hill.

The Queensland government committed $14 million to the initiative, with another $11.5 million coming from the Australian federal government's national collaborative infrastructure strategy, and $4.75 million from UQ.

AIBN Director Peter Gray told the Business Review the facilities will build more bridges between the public and private research sectors, expand national capabilities, develop new industries, and promote Australian innovation, adding: "This cluster of national research and development infrastructure is one of the newest and largest collections of its kind in Australia."


Citing Market Conditions, UBS Downgrades BioMed Realty Trust from 'Buy' to 'Neutral'

UBS this week downgraded its rating on shares of life-sci property owner BioMed Realty Trust, the San Diego-based, publicly traded real estate investment trust, from "buy" to "neutral," citing concern by investors about the company's vulnerability to the finances of its tenants, as well as additional concerns.

Specifically, UBS cited what it projects will be difficult market conditions as BioMed Realty leases up new space and pursues tenants for existing properties, given both the biotech industry's financial crunch and the broader economic upheaval of recent months. UBS also cut its estimated target price for company shares to $11 from $14.

Shares of BioMed Realty fell 11 percent the day the downgrade was announced May 27. Two days later, the price rebounded to $9.92 in mid-afternoon trading.


Baltimore Bank Wins $50M in New Market Tax Credits for Pair of Baltimore Biotech Parks

Baltimore bank Harbor Bankshares will receive $50 million in New Markets Tax Credits from the US Department of Treasury toward the development of the Science+Technology Park at Johns Hopkins in East Baltimore, and the University of Maryland's BioPark across the city in West Baltimore.

The credits were among $1.5 billion in tax credits awarded to 32 organizations nationwide, and paid for through the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the measure signed into law by President Obama with the goal of stimulating the nation's economy.


Quintiles Marks Grand Opening of New Durham, NC, Headquarters

Executives of Quintiles, led by its Chairman and CEO Dennis Gillings, were joined by North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue and Durham, NC, Mayor Bill Bell in a Thursday event marking the completion of the contract research organization's new approximately $50 million, 252,000-square-foot HQ, a 10-story building off Interstate 40 at Page Road.

Quintiles agreed to base 1,000 employees in the new HQ by 2012, in return for receiving a $23 million package of tax breaks and other incentives from the state and city governments announced in 2006. More than 400 of those jobs are already in place, company officials told local news outlets, putting the firm ahead of its six-year timetable.

Gillings' top-floor corner office features a glass door leading to the building's roof. Employees will work close to the glass walls and clustered offices within, so that more light could filter into their desks: "They make an attitudinal difference on your employees. You get a feedback cycle from that," Gillings told the Herald-Sun of Durham, NC.

Tri Properties, a Durham-based real estate development company, built the new Quintiles HQ as part of Imperial Plaza, which also included a Westin hotel.


The Scan

WHO Seeks Booster Pause

According to CNN, the World Health Organization is calling for a moratorium on administering SARS-CoV-2 vaccine boosters until more of the world has received initial doses.

For Those Long Legs

With its genome sequence and subsequent RNAi analyses, researchers have examined the genes that give long legs to daddy longlegs, New Scientist says.

September Plans

The New York Times reports that the US Food and Drug Administration is aiming for early September for full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

Nucleic Acids Research Papers on Targeting DNA Damage Response, TSMiner, VarSAn

In Nucleic Acids Research this week: genetic changes affecting DNA damage response inhibitor response, "time-series miner" approach, and more.