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Alexandria Rolls Out Plans for Its RTP Innovation Cluster

Xconomy Raleigh-Durham — 

Alexandria Real Estate Equities’ vision to turn a mostly undeveloped property in Research Triangle Park into its latest life science cluster is moving forward with a first phase intended to boost offerings for early-stage startups.

Pasadena, CA-based Alexandria (NYSE: ARE), which operates science and technology campuses across the country, announced the RTP plans today. Alexandria will start by refurbishing an existing building and laying the groundwork for development expected to reach 1 million square feet of space. Those RTP plans put the property shy of similar Alexandria science campuses in San Francisco; Cambridge, MA, and New York. But Alexandria CEO Joel Marcus says each site reflects its market.

“Each region is different and has its own DNA. What’s different here is that the three universities will be actively involved,” says Marcus, referring to the roles of NC State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Duke University.

Alexandria purchased the property from The Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences in 2012 for about $20 million. The Hamner remains an Alexandria tenant and coming changes to its 150,000-square-foot building mark the start of what Alexandria calls the Alexandria Center for Science, Technology and Agriculture.

Alexandria properties, such as Mission Bay in San Francisco, form what the firm calls “urban innovation clusters.” These sites bring research space into urban areas and are designed to create an environment that supports collaboration. The RTP property will be slightly different. Located at the junction of Interstate 40 and Davis Drive, the site is far from urban, though it is located a short drive from Raleigh, Durham, or Chapel Hill. But Marcus says Alexandria’s RTP site will still emphasize collaboration.

The Hamner currently operates a biosciences accelerator, which is home to nine early-stage companies, including Phoundry Pharmaceuticals, recently acquired by Boston-based Intarcia but still operating from The Hamner under the Intarcia name. Alexandria is taking over the accelerator, which it will rename LaunchLabs.

Alexandria will provide LaunchLab tenants with what Marcus describes as full service—a turnkey space where Alexandria handles back office work, such as permitting, setting up the space, and providing some staffing to help operate it. Marcus says Alexandria will invest in companies through its investment arm, Alexandria Venture Investments. It plans to invest as well in MedBlue, a Duke University incubator that is also based at The Hamner. And Marcus says Alexandria will make improvements to the property with the goal of making more space available for additional startups.

LaunchLabs follows a blueprint that Alexandria first rolled out in Maryland last year, where the firm partnered with BioHealth Innovation (BHI), a nonprofit that supports the commercialization of Maryland technologies. Part of BHI’s building was dedicated to housing early stage startups, which were supported by investments from both BHI and Alexandria.

Looking ahead, Marcus aims to make Alexandria Center a place where the Triangle’s research universities can work with companies. UNC is a longtime research collaborator with The Hamner, and Duke has a presence on the site through MedBlue. NC State will be part of a forthcoming agricultural technology accelerator, taking advantage of the site’s proximity to major operations of Syngenta (NYSE: SYT), Bayer CropScience, and BASF Plant Science. Marcus says this agtech accelerator will be part of a second phase of development.

Though Alexandria’s RTP site will initially focus on early stage-startups, Marcus says the firm wants to create an ecosystem that will eventually include mid-size and large companies, as do Alexandria’s other campuses.

“That’s how we view it, as a fully integrated ecosystem,” Marcus says. “But here, we’re starting early stage because that’s the biggest opportunity in the Triangle—breakthrough discovery.”