December 12, 2009—UA bio park kicks into gear

UA bio park kicks into gearBy Josh Brodesky

ARIZONA DAILY STAR

December 12, 2009

The University of Arizona has broken ground on infrastructure for its planned Bioscience Park on the south side, but what development comes next, or when it comes, remains unclear and potentially years away.

The infill project at South Kino Parkway and East 36th Street has no commitments yet from any tech companies. Meanwhile, planned residential and retail projects related to the bio park have stalled in the downturn, as well. And Bruce Wright, the UA’s associate vice president of economic development, said the bio park’s planning and development horizon is 15 to 20 years out.

Still, officials held a groundbreaking ceremony Friday to celebrate the start of basic infrastructure improvements to the bio park’s 54-acre site, which is part of a larger 350-acre residential and commercial project called The Bridges. Through a $4.7 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration, construction has started for some roads, utilities and landscaping on the bio park’s portion of the project.

“This step is really important because within 10 or 11 months we will have the park development ready,” Wright said during a news conference before the groundbreaking ceremony.
Wright said the infrastructure needs to be put in before any company will commit to the Bioscience Park. While there have been no commitments yet, he said the university is in talks with three prospective companies, which he could not disclose because of confidentiality agreements.

“This is a very challenging time economically, and the fact that we have three serious companies interested in the park I think speaks to the importance and the possibility that this park holds,” he said.

While the technology and bioscience industries have remained relatively strong through the downturn, housing and retail have not, and Wright acknowledged that it could be a while until any housing development planned with KB Home and Lennar happens at the bio park. Plans call for 600 homes.
“The biggest chilling effect has been on the residential component for The Bridges. There is no single family residential development happening in town,” Wright said. “We don’t know when that market is going to turn back up and that residential development will move forward.”

But he said the retail component, which is developed by Eastbourne Investments Ltd., is slowly coming along.
“Eastbourne currently is in final negotiations with a major retailer to come to this project,” he said, adding that he could not disclose the retailer because of a confidentiality agreement.

Lincoln Property Co. was announced Friday as the development partner for the project. Lincoln has a presence in more than 200 cities around the world and a West regional office in Phoenix.

Peter Douglas, of Tucson-based PICOR Commercial Real Estate Services, which is also on the development team, said there is a need for bioscience lab space in Tucson.
“There fundamentally is no vacancy in bioscience space,” Douglas said.

The development plan for the bioscience park calls for up to 2.4 million square feet in laboratory and office space, a science and technical high school connected to Tucson Unified School District, a hotel and conference center and university housing.