Maryland’s Montgomery County could see its life-science footprint grow more than 1,000 acres over the next decade as two Johns Hopkins University projects enter the planning stages, while the county itself eyes a third project.
JHU is about a month away from submitting to state and county officials a conceptual or “first draft” zoning plan to develop around 600 acres in Rockville, the county’s seat.
That parcel comprises two campuses: the 108-acre Belward property, which the university acquired three years ago from a resident who recently died; and the county-owned Shady Grove Life Sciences Center, now the home of JHU’s Montgomery County campus and several other healthcare and science tenants.
JHU envisions teaming up with the county, a developer, and possibly other partners to expand the Shady Grove land. More broadly, the university’s expansion plan, dubbed Vision 2030, is part of its vision to create a mega-campus capable of competing with Asian life-sciences hotspots for private tenants seeking large blocks of space.
Consultants to the university, led by New York architectural/planning firm Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects, have said in public presentations last month that JHU envisions populating the two campuses with 12 million square feet of office and research space, between 10,000 and 12,000 housing units, and up to 380,000 square feet of retail space over the next 25 years.
Elaine Amir, executive director of JHU’s Montgomery County campus, told BioRegion News this week that the square footage and unit numbers are preliminary and would likely be revised based on public feedback and reviews by the Montgomery County Council and Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission.
Of the 12 million square feet of projected office and research space, 5 million square feet is to occupy the Belward site, with the remaining 7 million square feet sitting on the expanded Shady Grove site. The office/research space is part of a range of between 20 million and 30 million square feet that JHU has said it wants to develop at its two Rockville campuses over the next 25 years, bringing to the county as many as 60,000 new residents.
“The desire is to make a change for the better, and to make this the applied research, translational research center of North America. We’re thinking big. We don’t know what we’ll be able to accomplish,” Amir said in an interview. “The idea is to create a science city. It’s not going to be isolated research buildings where the scientists are inside and they don’t have access to the world, nor does the world have access to them.
“We have the greatest repository of medical research and biotech and IT assets in the entire world,” he added. “We have it, but we haven’t collaborated, we haven’t talked to one another till now. We have talked to our neighbors who have land, who have research companies or educational institutions in the life sciences center, and we said, ‘How would you like to grow with us?’ If we don’t collaborate, we’re going to continue to do isolated pieces of development which don’t get to where we need to get. That’s not what they’re doing in China and in India, or even in New York, Cambridge [Mass.], and in Palo Alto [Calif.].
“The idea is to create a science city. It’s not going to be isolated research buildings where the scientists are inside and they don’t have access to the world, nor does the world have access to them.”
JHU has said an expanded Shady Grove offers the best prospect for pursuing biotech and pharma giants that might otherwise expand in the hundreds of thousands of square feet available in Asian research parks, such as Singapore’s Biopolis and China’s Guangzhou municipality, home to two massive research parks: Science City, which has a total developable area of 403 million square feet; and International Bio-Island, which has 19.4 million square feet.
Montgomery County itself wants to expand its life-sciences holdings beyond Shady Grove. The county has set a March 31 deadline for developers interested in answering a formal Request for Proposals to build a new life sciences research park for the county on a 115-acre parcel adjacent to the new US Food and Drug Administration campus.
Montgomery County is leaving to RFP-responding developers the key detail of how much additional life-sciences space it wants developed at the parcel, which the county has dubbed “Site II.”
“The county envisions the creation of an environment where the brightest and the best regulators, researchers, professors, students, and medical professionals can meet and share ideas, research, and information that will lead to continuing technological, scientific and medical advancements,” the county stated in its RFP.
Kristina Ellis, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County’s Department of Economic Development, told BioRegion News that the designated developer would work with county officials and life-sciences leaders to build the campus over eight to 10 years, draw tenants, and manage the research space.
Montgomery has also left open whether it wants the developer to buy Site II or lease it from the county.
“At the end of the day, we just want a feasible plan that’s going to take in mind ultimately what we want to see,” Ellis said. “We would want to bring in jobs and businesses [for which it] would make sense to be adjacent to FDA.” He said officials “anticipate” the project will be privately owned and managed, but added that “other scenarios would be considered.”
“We would want a vibrant, potentially mixed-[use] development that would take advantage and showcase all the advantages of that site and location,” Ellis said.
Both the county and Johns Hopkins are betting that Montgomery County’s dense concentration of government agencies, biotech companies, and scientific professionals will make Vision 2030 succesful. The county estimates that it is home to more than 200 life-science companies and 19 government agencies, anchored by the FDA and the National Institutes of Health, which together employ more than 27,000 people, according to a list of the state’s largest employers by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.
According to a study released in December 2007 by Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, Montgomery County’s public and private life-science employers account for more than half of Maryland’s entire life-science cluster, which is home to 370 companies employing a combined 120,000 people.
Much of that activity has been concentrated within the county’s Shady Grove Life Sciences Center, which was established in 1983 as the first business campus zoned exclusively for life-science use.
Shady Grove’s tenants employ a combined 45,000 people and include biotech giants like Invitrogen and MedImmune; research centers like the Institute for Genomic Research; academic institutions like the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute; the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital; and the Maryland Technology Development Center, a 55,000-square-foot incubator for life sciences and information technology businesses. Amir said JHU would seek to build additional incubator space within an expanded Shady Grove.
Also at Shady Grove are nine schools of the UM system and Johns Hopkins’ three-building graduate campus, in which 5,000 students study 60 different disciplines, and where five of the university’s schools carry out research and instruction.
JHU consultants also envision populating the Shady Grove property with 280,000 square feet of neighborhood retail and housing accounting, which would account for half the campus, according to Amir. The remaining half would be devoted to research space.
Three-tenths of a mile to the west, JHU would transform the Elizabeth Banks property into the Belward Research Campus, a community anchored by life-science employers. Consultants for JHU have floated plans for Belward that envision 100,000 square feet of “local” retail, though Amir said the research space would be supplemented mainly by ancillary housing “for visiting scientists or people coming here to do research for a short period of time.
“We’d love to see part of NIH, or the National Institute of Standards and technologies,” 10 minutes away, grow within Shady Grove or Belward, in addition to life sciences companies and universities, Amir said.
Mass Transit, Future Leadership Could Stall JHU’s Expansion Plans
JHU said its development plans are contingent on the construction of a long-discussed mass transit system from the Metro transit system’s Shady Grove terminal south to Rockville, then north to Clarksburg, Md. JHU wants the county to change the route of the planned Cross County Transitway by moving its single line southwest to a more central portion of Shady Grove, and adding a stop further west at the Belward campus.
“You won’t have to get as far to get to work,” Amir said. “They’ll be closer to home, and we’ll be creating a new research city. This will now be the center of activity. We’ll create new opportunities and grow from here.”
Amir said JHU prefers whichever CCT option would draw the most riders, which university consultants have projected would be the light rail mode. But at a projected $865 million, a light-rail system would cost almost two-thirds more to build than the rapid-bus mode estimated at $533 million.
JHU hopes to build a coalition of public agencies and private investors willing to fund the CCT. At least one potential partner has expressed support for the idea: Montgomery County Council President Michael Knapp (D-Germantown) told Maryland’s Gazette newspaper chain earlier this month such a coalition should move ahead without waiting for help from Washington.
“If we all sit here and wait for the federal government to deem appropriate whatever amount of funding, we’re going to be waiting a long time.”
Knapp did not respond to messages from BioRegion News seeking additional comment.
Another potential complication for JHU’s campus developments is the prospect of modifications by new leadership. The university’s president, William Brody, announced he will retire on Dec. 31 after leading the university for more than 12 years, the fifth-longest tenure among JHU’s 13 presidents.
Kristina Ellis, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County’s Department of Economic Development, said the county is supportive of additional research space on the Johns Hopkins properties. “We certainly want to encourage the best use, not only in terms of what’s good for them, but for the county and for future job growth and for helping us maintain a leading position nationally and internationally as a biotech and science research hub.”