Tissue bank adds muscle to skeleton of the University of Miami's life sciences park
By Zachary S. Fagenson
By this time next year Miami should have some tangible sense of the impact of the University of Miami's long-awaited Life Science & Technology Park.
A skeleton at the park's first site, a $100 million, 246,000-square-foot building with research and labs space, is already beginning to rise in the Health District.
Construction is to create 1,150 direct and indirect jobs, and once finished and occupied the building will lead to the creation of about 2,700 direct and indirect positions, according to a report by the Washington Economics Group, which was hired to by developer Wexford Miami to study economic impact.
But it seems the park's expectations have been dialed back.
The park was long projected total about 2 million square feet. But a recent press release said the five buildings will total "roughly 1.6 million square feet of laboratory and office space," a 20% drop from earlier estimates.
Meanwhile "permits are in place for [the building's] skin, the roof, the floors, the main HVAC system," Joseph Reagan, who heads the project here for Wexford, said in a recent interview, "and we will soon submit permits for tenants."
Wexford last week announced the University of Miami's Tissue Bank, which collects, processes and distributes donated human tissue, will occupy about 80,000 square feet of the first building.
"We recover heart valves, skin for burn victims, bones for patient with tumors or bone loss from trauma," said tissue bank director, professor and Vice Chair of UM's medical school's orthopedic department Dr. Thomas Temple. "Our first obligation is to hospitals in South Florida, where our donors come from."
Though it's not a for-profit outfit, "whatever net positive there is from that we plow back into research and development," he added.
Research, development and commercialization of medical discoveries are at the core of the life sciences park.
The tissue bank is to occupy 50,000 square feet in the first building, a dramatic increase from its current 10,000. It'll be joined to a 30,000-square-foot laboratory space for an "organ-procurement organization" that is to create an added 75 to 100 jobs.
It's "going to expand because our donor base has expanded and we're going to go from three processing rooms to eight processing rooms and one recovery suite to two," Dr. Temple said. "We're adding basic science lab space involved in cartilage regeneration and stem cell applications.
"In addition we're going to be working with the brain bank, who will also be occupying that space," he added.
University officials and Greater Miami will keep a sharp eye on what comes out of the tissue bank and future tenants. Biotech has long been touted as one of the region's forthcoming economic engines, through it hasn't risen near the level of tourism, real estate or agriculture.
But the tissue bank already has a number of projects underway that could change all that.
As one example, "there's a covering of a muscle on the outside of the leg that wasn't used for anything," Dr. Temple said of an ongoing research project. "We found a way to [modify] that fascia into an anterior cruciate ligament."
Commonly known as an ACL, injuries to this ligament have ended or suspended the careers of numerous professional athletes. The San Diego Chargers' Kellen Winslow retired after constant knee injuries. The New England Patriots' Tom Brady sustained an ACL injury in 2008, and even golfer Tiger Woods was rumored to have a similar injury. Professional sports teams and trainers have spent countless hours and dollars on preventing ACL injuries and rehabilitating athletes who sustained the injury.
A better fix for the injury with a shorter recovery could prove valuable to organizations forced to watch athletes with multimillion-dollar salaries sidelined months at a time.
And though it may be some time before Miami sees such lab work turn into dollars and cents, it can expect more tenants in that first building and progressively larger building as work continues.
Mr. Reagan said Wexford is negotiating with a potential Miami-based tenant looking to license and commercialize those discoveries and an out-of-state medical device company, nearing the end of development on a product, looking for space.
Wexford is funding the build-outs of incoming tenants.
Although Wexford is only the official developer for "Building One," it has a "concept design for the remainder and we've advanced the conceptual design of the buildings far enough along that we can run some estimates," Mr. Reagan said. And though there has to be "a careful balance between getting started too soon and not having any product," expect each new building to be bigger.
"As the conceptual site plan is organized, each building is two stories taller," he added. From the first six-story building they're to grow to eight, 10, 12 and finally 15 stories.
And though the vast increase in supply for a still-burgeoning industry could shrink demand and prices, the challenge for such a park comes early on.
"Our experience is most first buildings in a multi-building park will take 12 to 18 months to lease up, which gives us a cycle of people [becoming] aware of" it, Mr. Reagan said. "Once you get the first building up and occupied, the second building goes much quicker because by then it's truly a destination."