Wexford Miami preparing to build University of Miami's life science park
By Zachary S. Fagenson
The first bricks of the University of Miami's 2-million-plus-square-foot life sciences park may soon be in place.
The county's Industrial Development Authority last week approved issuance of a $60 million recovery zone facility bond to finance the construction of the park's first building at 1951 NW Seventh Ave. in Miami.
The bond, created under President Obama's stimulus package, is a tax-exempt private activity bond used in designated recovery zones to finance capital projects.
The university chose Wexford Miami LLC, a subsidiary of Maryland-based developers Wexford Equities LLC, to develop the first of the park's buildings. Each of the six buildings is to house laboratories, offices and retail space in five research-and-development buildings.
Credit for pushing development of the park has been widely given to Dr. Bart Chernow, vice provost for technological advancement and the creator of UM Innovation, whose goal is to take laboratory discoveries made at the university and commercialize them.
S. Nelson Weeks, Wexford's executive vice president and general counsel, said Wexford and the university would work together to find tenants for the space. Mr. Chernow declined a request for an interview.
Meanwhile, the bond to fund construction, although waiting approval from the county commission, will be combined with $8.33 million in new markets tax credits and $24.27 million in equity from Wexford for the $92.6 million project.
Construction is expected to last about 18 months and was to begin in September. But due to the global economic slowdown and a still-thawing credit market, financing has been tough to come by.
"Lenders have made it clear their capital doesn't allow them to lend us money," Mr. Weeks told the Industrial Development Authority last week.
The first building, according to Wexford's report to the authority, is to be a six-story, 215,000-square-foot facility that includes 195,000 square feet for research and laboratories as well as 6,000 square feet of retail space. It is already designed and ready for the permitting process.
The company is to develop, build, own and operate the facility, according to Mr. Weeks. It's also leasing the 1.4 acres the building will sit on from the university, paying $50,000 monthly. Once the project is complete, Wexford is to pay the university $600,000 a year.
The project is expected to create 1,500 jobs and may be only the beginning of Wexford's presence in the university's life sciences park.
We "don't know that we might be the developer of the next five buildings," Mr. Weeks said. "But we'd like to be."