With beginning behind it, UA BioPark looks to future

By: David Wichner
October 12, 2012

With beginning behind it, UA BioPark looks to future
Thursday’s event included dedication of this tile-wall artwork created by students at Las Artes as part of a new “Pathway to Discovery” interpretive trail. The UA hopes the first biotech building will rise soon.

After more than a decade of planning and nearly three years after its groundbreaking, the University of Arizona Bioscience Park is celebrating the end of the beginning.

And while the first biotech building has yet to rise from the site, still mostly dirt, at East 36th Street and Kino Parkway, the school is hoping that won’t be far off.

On Thursday, UA officials and local dignitaries gathered under a drizzly fall sky to formally dedicate the UA BioPark.

The 54-acre biotech park is ready for aboveground development after the completion of millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements including drainage and utilities, graded pads, lighting, sidewalks, roads, signage and landscaping. A $4.7 million federal stimulus grant in 2009 helped pay for the improvements.

Thursday’s event included a ceremonial tree planting and dedication of tile-wall artwork created by students at Las Artes as part of a new “Pathway to Discovery” interpretive trail.

A senior U.S. Commerce Department official said the UA BioPark is an example of “solid, bottom-up regional economic development strategies” that help communities to play to their strengths.

“The economic crisis has changed our communities forever,” said Matthew Erskine, acting assistant secretary for the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

“We can’t return to the status quo. … Every community is finding its own answer, which is crucial,” Erskine told about 200 event attendees.

UA President Ann Weaver Hart said the new biotech park is a critical part of the school’s economic-development strategy, building on the UA’s status as a top-tier research university.

“This puts us in the position to be even stronger, and more proactive, in seeking answers to the biggest questions of our time,” said Hart, who took the UA’s helm in July.

Noting that the UA’s marquee technology spinoff, Ventana Medical Systems, is 25 years old, Hart said she’s looking forward to seeing new buildings go up for biotech tenants.

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said the UA BioPark represents a step toward the future of Tucson as a “clean, science-technology-based community.”

Rothschild said the BioPark will become a key part of what he calls the “Southeast Economic Corridor,” stretching from the UA Science and Technology Park to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, including the area around Tucson International Airport and the Port of Tucson.

The mayor admired the site’s progress but said he wants to see more, and soon.

“I definitely expect by the summer to see some tall buildings here,” he joked.

Bruce Wright, UA associate vice president for university research parks, said the adjacent 300-acre retail and residential development, The Bridges, already has brought hundreds of jobs with the opening of a Costco Wholesale store and a recently completed Walmart that is set open in the next few weeks.

A housing development on the BioPark’s west side also is in advanced planning stages, he said.

But the UA is eager to “build vertically” as well, Wright said, noting that the state’s biosciences- development road map has identified new biotech lab space as a key ingredient to grow the biosciences in Arizona and Tucson.

Wright said the UA is actively marketing the site and is in serious discussions with a potential biotech tenant that would build its own standalone building.

The UA had originally aimed to build an anchor multistory biotech lab and office building by the end of 2013, Wright said.

Infrastructure development was delayed for months while the UA settled a default of complex land-swap agreements by a homebuilding partnership.

Wright said breaking ground in the middle of the recession in late 2009 didn’t help matters, but if current tenant negotiations are fruitful, some building could start by the end of next year.

Contact Assistant Business Editor Arizona Daily Star David Wichner at [email protected] or 573-4181.

Photo credit: Benjie Sanders, Arizona Daily Star

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