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Near The East River, Plans Emerge For NY’s Next Life Science Center

Xconomy New York — 

At a time when biotech incubators and shared spaces are beginning to multiply in Manhattan, work on what could rank among the city’s largest biotech centers—if it can all come together—is just getting underway.

According to Paul Wexler, a longtime healthcare-focused real estate broker, construction should begin next year on what is being called the “New York Life Sciences and Biotechnology Center.” The plans for this complex, situated on 41st Street and 1st Avenue, are ambitious: Wexler says the center, when completed, would total 1.35 million square feet, which would be one of the largest facilities in Manhattan devoted exclusively to life sciences. It’s meant to have a mix of biotech and pharma companies, large and small, and would have a floor devoted to incubator space ready for seed stage companies right when it opens. A Website outlining some of the scant details so far is now up and running.

“We’re doing all of the due diligence to find out what people would like,” Wexler says. “The fact of the matter is this is going to be New York’s most exciting life sciences and biotech project.”

That’s yet to be seen. It’s important to note that this project is early; Wexler says final designs are still being sketched out as to what the building and its associated campus will look like, and what all of the amenities will be. Additionally, the project is planned for a property that has been vacant for over a decade. It’s a piece of the land that was once a huge Con Edison (NYSE: ED) power plant, which Solow Realty & Development, a company owned by New York real estate mogul Sheldon Solow, bought in 2000.

Since that time, the property has been, for the most part, a vacant tract of waterfront land east of midtown. The property was originally planned to contain several residential buildings, according to Wexler.

Those plans have been streamlined as time passed. As The New York Times reported in 2013, Solow spent years and millions of dollars demolishing the Con Ed plant, and rezoning and cleaning up the land before ultimately selling off some lots and keeping ownership of others. Another developer, JDS Development, for example, bought some of the land from Solow and constructed a two-tower luxury apartment complex now known as American Copper Buildings. Solow on the other hand kept 685 First Ave., which is being turned into a 42-story residential tower. But in the meantime, Wexler says he pushed Solow to pursue another, perhaps more timely use for at least some of the property: a life sciences complex.

While biotech in New York has historically languished far behind established hubs in Boston and San Francisco that consistently churn out high-profile venture backed startups and contain some of the industry’s iconic companies, there are signs that city and state governments in New York taking seriously the idea that the sector could be an important part of its economic future. Over the past year, both have bet a combined $1.15 billion through complementary programs to fund the development lab space, back entrepreneurship programs, provide tax incentives to local biotechs, and more.

The two plans emerged amidst an influx of venture firms, biotech incubators, collaborative academic initiatives, and other small steps to push life sciences forward in New York. Just last week, for instance, two other developers, Taconic Investment Partners and Silverstein Properties, announced plans to put $20 million into the “Hudson Research Center,” a life sciences facility being developed on the West Side. Meanwhile one biotech incubator, BioLabs@NYULangone, should open by the end of the year and another, JLabs, is expected to open at the New York Genome Center in 2018.

The site of the planned Life Sciences and Biotechnology Center is in the middle of a cluster of Manhattan life science properties. The Alexandria Center for Life Science, NYU Langone Medical Center, Rockefeller University, Weill Cornell Medicine and several other healthcare facilities are on the East Side.

“I’ve been watching how life science and biotech has slowly but surely started to work its way into he city,” Wexler says. “Based upon timing right now there couldn’t be a better user group for this site, especially based on where it’s located.”

Lux Capital partner Adam Goulburn is one of those potential users, being a venture capitalist who starts biotech companies—one of which, Kallyope, is based at the Alexandria Center. Goulburn says any new commercial lab space “a great thing for the New York biotech ecosystem.” But “it’s a question of how quick [this project] can get to market,” he says.

“I think the greatest chance for success for biotech in New York is a cluster approach,” Goulburn says. “Some of these initiatives seem to be isolated endeavors. I know the city is doing [its] best to implement a collaborative and coordinated strategic approach that will enable biotech in New York to endure.”

The Life Sciences and Biotechnology Center isn’t associated with LifeSci NYC—the $500 million New York City biotech initiative Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in December that is trying to help bring more lab space online in New York City, among other goals. Incidentally, though, the complex would be located in a prime potential spot for the so-called Applied Life Science Campus, a central biotech hub meant to be part of LifeSci NYC. De Blasio’s initiative has been accepting proposals to develop the campus.

Wexler says he is in talks with LifeSci NYC and has applied to get the Life Sciences and Biotechnology Center and its tenants some of the financial benefits of the program. “This is exactly what they wanted,” he says of LifeSci NYC. Shavone Williams, a spokesperson for the New York City Economic Development Corp., which runs LifeSci NYC, confirmed that talks with Wexler’s group are underway.

“We are in ongoing discussions with the NY Life Sciences and Biotechnology Center, and while conversations are in early stages, we believe it is an exciting project that could help fulfill the goals of Mayor de Blasio’s LifeSci NYC plan,” Williams said.