Friday, Nov. 16, 2007

Bioparks’ lure: Universities and low-interest state loans

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A close relationship with the parent university is what tenants covet most about Maryland’s new bioparks, planners have discovered. And $10 million in low-interest loans from the state government for first tenants also helps a bit.

In a few weeks the University of Maryland, Baltimore, will open Building 2 of its BioPark in west Baltimore.

Before construction began, the school changed course on the 10-acre research park project to better integrate some of its own programs within the park as potential partners with the next tenants. The course correction is part of a national trend in university research parks, according to a new survey.

The nonprofit Association of University Research Parks of St. Louis indicates that the Baltimore BioPark is not just a real estate investment for medical science companies, but represents a new model of universities that use ‘‘various mechanisms to foster university-industry relationships.”

Across town, at the emerging Science and Technology Park next to the Johns Hopkins University medical and research complex in east Baltimore, plans call for a trendy, mixed-use, research ‘‘city” within the city. The first research building to be completed early next year is the beginning of a project designed specifically to lure and keep life sciences endeavors close to campus.

And at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in Catonsville, life science companies are moving into state-of-the-art laboratory space at the 41-acre bwtech@UMBC Research and Technology Park, to mesh with university expertise, students, technology, programs and facilities.

Baltimore project isnamed park of the year

Last month, the St. Louis association named the Baltimore BioPark its Emerging University Research Science Park of the Year.

According to the group’s survey of 134 owners and managers of 174 research parks in the United States and Canada, university parks have become key drivers of regional development, with a trend toward urban rather than suburban locations. The survey was conducted by the association and the Technology Partnership Practice of the nonprofit Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio.

In the survey, 95 percent of the research park directors said a high priority is to create an environment that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship.

‘‘Nationally, people don’t realize how strong the research branch is at UMB,” said Walter Plosila, vice president of Battelle’s Technology Partnership Practice who helped plan the BioPark in Baltimore several years ago. ‘‘They are involved in the community to identify entrepreneurs and new talent pools.”

Jane M. Shaab, the university’s vice president for business development, said that when state and city officials announced the opening of the BioPark’s first building two years ago, ‘‘We had no intention of partnering, having a piece of the university in the park at that time.”

That thinking changed, she said, after the university completed a deal to move 22 scientists into Building 1 from a Red Cross laboratory in Rockville. The Red Cross had decided to disband its Rockville studies aimed at keeping the nation’s blood supply free of diseases and immunological disorders.

CEOs and researchersas adjunct professors

Shaab said her university developed a policy ‘‘to deal in a very customized fashion” to help leading researchers and company CEOs work as adjunct professors, Shaab said.

‘‘Some are transitioning from universities into a life science business. Maybe they don’t want to lose the safety of the university grants,” she said, so the university instead encourages them to bring the grants along.

There are now six commercial companies and several University of Maryland programs in Building 1. So far, the university has commitments for three or four new commercial firms in Building 2.

Alba Therapeutics Corp. — a UMB spinoff and ‘‘the poster child for the park” in Building 1 — has signed to move to larger space in Building 2, Schaab said. The university has also recruited Claire Fraser-Liggett, who since 1998 was director of the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville.

Building 2 includes a conference center for 95 people and an auditorium for 150. More classrooms are being added. It was developed by Wexford Science and Technologies LLC, a subsidiary of Wexford Equities LLC of Hanover.

The latest innovation at the park is its BioAccelerator of pre-built lab space in Building 2 to ‘‘seed” early-stage companies. The Maryland Technology Development Corp. has extended a $1 million, interest-free loan to UMB for the facility, matched by $1 million by Wexford.

State incentiveslure tenants

In 2003, the state Department of Business and Economic Development tried a new program to stimulate growth at the BioPark. It provided a pool of $4 million for low-interest loans to companies in Building 1 only, which was developed by Townsend Capital LLC of Hunt Valley.

The loan pool idea worked well enough to offer another $4 million in 2005 to the East Baltimore Development Initiative Corp. for the first research at the Science and Technology Park next to Johns Hopkins, said James Henry, DBED’s managing director for finance programs.

And, although the UMBC research park in Catonsville had been set in motion more than a decade earlier, DBED provided a loan pool of $2 million, also in 2005, for tenants in the third building, under construction at the time.

Last month, the Catonsville Chamber of Commerce named Ellen Hemmerly, executive director of the UMBC Research Park Corp., its Business Person of the Year. Under her direction, the research park has grown from an 8,000-square-foot trailer in 1989 to a five-building research park and fully leased incubator, creating nearly 2,000 jobs in the region.

‘‘We will typically only lease to companies that are compatible with our research or education,” Hemmerly said.

With about half of the project completed in the university’s bwtech@UMBC, new tenants include BDMetrics, Solvern Innovations, Convergent Technologies and Med-IQ, raising to 50 the number of companies working at UMBC, where 60 percent of students major in science and technology.

The park’s planning was rejuvenated after findings from a study of the park by Sage Policy Group were released in 2005, she said. It found that the park had generated $100 million in income and more than $200 million in business sales, creating $11 in state income and sales tax revenue plus $7 in Baltimore-area local income tax collections for each state dollar invested.

Since then, the park has added a U.S. Geological Survey research building and has two more buildings under construction.

Johns Hopkins atfront of trend

The biopark near Johns Hopkins leads a trend of mixed-use parks and amenities, said Plosila, of Battelle’s Technology Partnership Practice.

‘‘They are addressing neighborhood housing very well,” he said.

In addition to five planned research buildings at the Science and Technology Park, the Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership is developing the first phase of a new community with $800 million earmarked for urban redevelopment.

The first park building, due for completion in the spring, is anchored by the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Colliers Pinkard⁄ROC Realty and Scheer Partners Inc. are the developers. Although not a true owner in the project, Johns Hopkins has pledged that its tenants will have full, cost-effective access to specialized medical research services and equipment.