Real estate giant Alexandria Real Estate Equities has unveiled sweeping plans to transform a 56-acre Research Triangle Park site into a campus for life science and agricultural technology companies.
Plans for the campus call for more than 1 million square feet of space.
“This is aimed at creating a world-class campus, we think in the heart of RTP ... that will have an amenity-rich and urban-like environment,” said Joel Marcus, founder and CEO of Alexandria.
The first phase of the Alexandria Center for Science, Technology and Agriculture at 6 Davis Drive features space for emerging companies, called Alexandria LaunchLabs, in a building already on the site that is being renovated. That space, which is targeted to open in the spring, is expected to be between 40,000 and 50,000 square feet, Marcus said.
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The next phase involves constructing two new buildings: an office and laboratory building that is expected to contain 100,000 square feet or more; and a smaller building, around 40,000 square feet, aimed at ag tech companies that would include greenhouse space, which area startups complain is in short supply locally.
The presence of agricultural biotechnology giants such as BASF, Bayer CropScience and Syngenta in the Triangle has made the region “the center of the universe” for the ag tech industry, Marcus said. In addition, ag tech startups have been blossoming locally.
The center is modeled after similar developments Alexandria has created in New York City, Cambridge, Mass., and the Mission Bay area of San Francisco that today range from 1 million to nearly 5 million square feet of space.
It likely will take a decade to transform the vision for the RTP project into reality, Marcus said.
“It’s a great project by a great partner that has been in RTP for many years,” said Mason Ailstock, vice president of business development for the Research Triangle Foundation, the not-for-profit that manages RTP. “In all truthfulness, we really are excited to see that property going to work and look forward to seeing what Joel and his team end up bringing out of the ground.”
Alexandria first entered the Triangle market in 1998 and today has about 1 million square feet of space leased to tenants such as Bayer CropScience, Eisai, Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill. The center is on a site the company purchased for $20 million from the nonprofit Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences, which continues to occupy a portion of the property.
Among the initial tenants of Alexandria LaunchLabs will be a branch office of the real estate firm’s venture capital arm, Alexandria Venture Investments and Accelerator.
“We’re about to hire someone who is well-known in the community who will head that up,” Marcus said.
Venture capitalists like to invest close to home, which makes Venture Investments’ presence a welcome development for area entrepreneurs who must venture far afield to raise the funding they need.
Venture Investments has more than $350 million under management, and Marcus said the venture capital fund will be working with a syndicate of investors, many of which haven’t previously invested in Triangle companies. He said the presence of Venture Investments elsewhere has convinced other venture capital firms to open offices in Alexandria developments.
Other tenants in LaunchLabs include what was Phoundry Pharmaceuticals, a spin-off from GlaxoSmithKline, before it was acquired by Boston-based Intarcia Therapeutics in September; and Duke University’s MedBlue Incubator.
LaunchLabs will include a host of support services, including shared scientific equipment and trained personnel to operate it.
MedBlue, which already is operating at the site, was formed in 2013 to help commercialize technology coming out of the surgery, pathology and anesthesiology departments at Duke University Medical Center. To date MedBlue has invested in four startups that it is now nurturing.
Alexandria also is making an undisclosed investment in MedBlue.
Dani Bolognesi, a Duke professor emeritus and a member of MedBlue’s board of directors, said that he expects that LaunchLab will foster exchanges of ideas and collaborations between companies that will benefit all involved.
“The more colliding molecules, the more probability for something good to happen,” Bolognesi said. Bolognesi previously co-founded and led Trimeris, a Duke spin-off that developed a treatment for AIDS.
Marcus said that the Research Triangle Foundation’s master plan to reinvent RTP persuaded him that the area was primed for the Alexandria Center.
Last month the foundation announced plans to modernize the Park Center office park at the intersection of N.C. 54 and Davis Drive to include public spaces such as a 5,000-seat amphitheaters, two hotels, 300,000 square feet of retail and hundreds of apartments. Funded by a $50 million public-private partnership, that project is the first undertaken under the master plan that debuted in November 2012.