Developer Plans Biotech Complex near Palm Beach

Mar. 1--With construction under way at the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies' 100,000-square-foot campus here, the city's largest developer is now working to get a biotechnology complex four times that size built next door.

Core Communities LLC, the company behind the 8,200-acre Tradition community where Torrey Pines' lab is planned, is in talks with national lab-space developers to build a 400,000-square-foot "bio-hotel" at the southwest corner of Interstate 95 and Tradition Boulevard, Core President Pete Hegener said Wednesday.

The lab-and-office complex would provide space for bioscience companies and is slated for a spot between Torrey Pines and the 20-acre parcel that Martin Memorial Health Systems recently bought for a possible hospital.

"It would be extremely valuable to the entire cluster," said Hegener, who declined to identify with whom Core is negotiating.

The country's biggest name in lab-space development is Pasadena, Calif.-based Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc., said Stacey Franklin, vice president of BioTech Primer Inc., a Baltimore-based group devoted to education in the industry. The national real estate firm CB Richard Ellis also is well-known in the field, she said.

Representatives of both firms have attended several economic-development events on the Treasure Coast, though both have declined public comment about any plans for Port St. Lucie.

Patricia Ardigo, director of the life-science group for CB Richard Ellis, said Wednesday she could not talk about the planned bio-hotel at Tradition. But she said it's possible her firm could work to market and lease a development completed by a company such as Alexandria.

Alexandria, which could not be reached for comment, reportedly has eyed space also in Jupiter, near the campus of another California-based biotech nonprofit, The Scripps Research Institute.

Though Torrey Pines is planning a smaller presence than Scripps -- it will ultimately employ 189, compared with Scripps' 545 -- Ardigo said Port St. Lucie was appealing because of its location and educational institutions.

"I think it's very (opportune) on all fronts, not just for the affordability of research labs," Ardigo said.

The bio-hotel would be built in phases, Hegener said, and construction of the first 100,000 square feet would take about a year. Torrey Pines' campus is scheduled to open by fall 2008.

Mid-level companies that can't afford to build their own space but are too large for incubators are attracted to such complexes, Franklin said.

"I know that here in Maryland when they put up these kinds of things ... in some instances they can have a whole entire building rented out before it's finished," Franklin said, "and that's kind of the goal."

Copyright (c) 2007, The Palm Beach Post, Fla. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.