De Blasio Infusing $100M Into New Life Science Campus


Mayor Bill de Blasio has unveiled an ambitious plan to build a new life sciences facility somewhere along the East River, likening it to Cornell University’s engineering campus on Roosevelt Island.

The City of New York plans to invest $100 million into a new structure, which will either be constructed on Manhattan’s East Side or in Long Island City, Queens, the mayor announced today. Building a new life sciences structure is part of a broader $500 million plan to add 16,000 new jobs in the field, reexamine land use and provide tax credits for developers working in the sector

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“We have a competitive advantage that we haven’t fully taken advantage of,” de Blasio said at a press conference at Alexandria Center for Life Sciences in Manhattan. “We have that infrastructure but until now many businesses have chosen to go to competitive locations” such as Boston and Silicon Valley.

While details for what is being called the “Applied Life Sciences Campus” are slim, the structure would be used for bioengineering, research and development as well as training, according to the mayor’s office. New York City Economic Development Corporation officials are hoping the complex will be completed by 2021. 

Maria Torres-Springer, the president of the EDC, said at the press conference that the quasi-governmental agency would release a request for expressions of interest sometime in 2017. That will help identify potential development sites, she added, including those privately held by some of the respondents.

“It will be a place where experts from diverse disciplines will come together,” Torres-Springer said, calling the new structure the “lynchpin” to the overall life science push.

City Hall likened the proposed campus to the one under development on Roosevelt Island. Cornell and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology are co-developing an engineering institution on the island, where a new school building, mixed-use facility and dormitory are being erected.

De Blasio is also committing to giving $300 million in tax incentives to develop commercial lab space in the Big Apple. The goal there, according to the mayor’s office, is to spur construction of these labs, which can often be costly. A 2013 report by CBRE on life sciences noted that tenant buildout costs for a New York City research lab—factoring in the price of equipment along with legal and architectural fees—run from $300 to $600 per square foot. That’s significantly costlier than the average $50 to $150 per square foot price tag of building out a traditional office, the report indicates.

The costs are even higher when factoring in the sum to build the core and shell of a life science-focused building, John Cunningham, a senior vice president in charge of the Alexandria Center, told Commercial Observer. That’s because the nature of the tenants require special infrastructure such as temperature-adjusting cooling systems, higher clearance between floors and complex interior systems.

“The core and shell [of a life science property are] more robust than [you have in] a typical office building, so it does cost more,” he said. “[Typical] buildings aren’t designed to accommodate this kind of space.”

The mayor also plans to have the city explore zoning clarifications to double the amount of area in the city in which research and development labs can be built. Hizzoner also plans to include life science uses into new neighborhood rezonings to meet the job number.

Most companies looking for space in this industry are currently required to work in manufacturing zones, according to the CBRE report. That means many have been relegated to the outer boroughs.

One of the largest is the 728,000-square-foot Alexandria Center, a two-tower campus occupying a sizeable chunk of East 29th Street between First Avenue and the FDR Drive. In May, developer Alexandria Real Estate Equities (ARE) will open a 15,000-square-foot center that’s half labs and half office. The landlord is marketing the incubator for early-stage companies in the life science realm, as Commercial Observer reported in October.

Today’s announcement comes on the heels of $650 million plan by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, made up of tax breaks, capital investments and research grants. De Blasio said Cuomo’s plan is a regional one, but was glad the city and the state’s interests were aligned.

“It’s two different tracks but” they’re complementary, de Blasio said.

With additional reporting provided by Madina Toure.