With or without stimulus bonds, University of Miami life sciences park construction to start by end of year, university officials say
By Zachary S. Fagenson
Work will begin on the first building in the University of Miami's long-awaited life sciences park by year's end, the university's chief business officer said Tuesday.
Construction on the first of the six buildings was supposed to begin in early September, according to information Wexford Equities LLC, the Maryland developer chosen to develop the first building, provided to the county's Industrial Development Authority.
But a frozen credit market forced the developer to apply for a $60 million stimulus bond to help cover the cost of the $92.6 million project.
"Loans are not easy to come by," S. Nelson Weeks, Wexford's executive vice president, told the Industrial Development Authority in September. "Lenders have made clear their capital doesn't allow them to lend us money."
And while neither Mr. Weeks nor Joseph Reagan, who's heading the project here for Wexford, responded to repeated inquiries on the project's status, both Dr. Bart Chernow, vice provost for technology advancement at the university's medical school, and Joe Natoli, the university's senior vice president for business and finance, said the project will move forward with or without the bond.
We're "optimistic that [the bond] will come through butů I think that's not requisite for the project," Dr. Chernow said.
Instead, both separately pointed out that the park's success depends more on commitment from potential tenants than on the bond.
"Wexford and the University of Miami continue to work on a large number of prospects," Mr. Natoli said. And the project "needs a certain number of commitments."
Among them, he added, is an anchor tenant for the 215,500-square-foot "building one," which has already been designed and is ready for the permitting process.
As a whole, the university's life sciences park is expected to add nearly 2 million square feet of commercial space, much of it laboratory and research, to Miami's Health District.
And while the university has only contracted Wexford to develop and manage the first building, Mr. Weeks said the firm would like to develop the whole park.
It is 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.
Meanwhile, members of the business community and those in the economic development world have pinned their hopes for a burgeoning biotech industry in Miami on the forthcoming park.
But at last month's Industrial Development Authority meeting, Michael Swerdlow, CEO of developer The Swerdlow Group, applied for the same $60 million stimulus bond to build a $160 million administrative building for the Jackson Health System.
"This is a way in which Jackson Memorial Hospital can consolidate its far-flung administrative staff," Mr. Swerdlow told the authority's board. The project "is designed first and foremost to reduce [the hospital's] costs."
County commissioners have final word on disbursal of the bond money. One developer could receive the whole pot or they may split.
Who gets what, according to authority Executive Director James Wagner, will ultimately be decided in December or January.