University of Miami's life science park offers newcomers 'soft landing'
By Zachary S. Fagenson
The University of Miami's Life Science and Technology Park will soon have another lure to attract startups and large medical and technology firms from around the country and world into its first building.
As workers continue toward the building's summer 2011 completion, work has also begun on converting 25,000 square feet into a "soft landing pad" that would offer international or startup technology companies pre-built office and laboratory space.
"A company can come in with a laptop, drop it on a desk, connect to the network and go to business," said Joseph Reagan, who heads the project here for developer Wexford Miami. "All the other ancillary stuff — reception, conference room, fax — is there ready for them to use."
Companies generally lease a landing pad space for a short time before moving into a larger space.
The space offers international companies a seamless entry into the US market or startups the opportunity to get up and running with low upfront costs.
"When someone gets their funding they don't have time to wait, they don't need a ton of space and they need flexibility," said Richard Schuchts, senior vice president at the building's leasing agent Jones Lang LaSalle. "One thing that makes this building different is the infrastructure, and when you have the ability to have a central plant with air conditioning and systems in place, we're going to be able to drive huge efficiencies.
"These companies are using sometimes 10 to 20 times the amount of electricity we would typically use in an office, and these small users will get the benefit of that," he added.
The $100 million, 250,000-square-foot building is the first of five to be built adjacent to Health District. Wexford has already secured the University of Miami's Tissue Bank for 50,000 square feet and an "organ procurement organization" for an additional 30,000.
The success of the park carries with it the hopes of many community and civic leaders who have pegged biotechnology as the county's next big generator of wealth.
Though the entire building is niche space, Wexford is trying to keep the prebuilt space as generic as possible to accommodate a range of needs within the medical and biotechnology fields.
Tenants would also have access to a variety of shared services, like support staff, that they would otherwise have to pay for.
"The soft landing suite will contain six double-lab modules, five single-lab modules, 14 offices, plus shared reception, conference rooms, interaction spaces, break rooms and lab support spaces such as equipment rooms and autoclaves," Mr. Reagan wrote in an e-mail. "The idea is that companies would lease as many offices and/or lab modules as they needed, with the options to increase or decrease as their business needed."
And being in the park would also offer companies access to the university's medical campus and college as well as the college of engineering
Companies can "interact and collaborate with those faculty members without having to make a huge investment," Mr. Reagan added. The "idea being that in six months to a year they prove [their work] is commercially viable, go to the next round of financing and move into space custom built for their needs… hopefully in the life science park."
At the University City Science Center in Philadelphia, where Wexford developed three buildings, Mr. Reagan said 50,000 to 60,000 square feet of landing pad space developed over the last 35 to 40 years have helped bring existing and startup companies into the park.
Meanwhile, leasing seems to be going smoothly, though no one would reveal the latest additions to the tenant roster.
"We're going to be announcing very shortly another tenant that's taking a significant amount space coming from outside of the Miami market," Mr. Reagan said. The building is "40% leased at this point, with another 25% in negotiations."
And in attracting future tenants, Miami seems to have a distinct advantage over more develop life science parks.
"The more we spend time on this and the more we talk to people, the more I'm coming to realize the Miami location offers something all the other life science clusters don't have and that's the international aspect, Miami's economy, its people and language," he said.
"We're talking to foreign companies now that are interested because of that."