Biotech and Lifesciences Placemaking

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Biotech and Lifesciences Placemaking

In general, branding has been a weaker practice in the life science/biotech property development sector simply because of how strong demand has outpaced supply (with no signs of weakening, especially after the pandemic caused interest in the sector to boom). However, there are clear places where branding can contribute, including positioning developments as cluster hubs, demonstrating experience for landlords, and reaching decision-makers earlier in the pipeline. It is also increasingly important because of how competitive the sector is; with most high-end amenities becoming standard for this type of development, being able to tell a unique story about the development may soon be the only way projects stand out from the crowd.

Biotech/Life Sciences Development Projects

1. Forbes Research Center (Bay Area)

2. 777 Industrial Road (Bay Area)

  • This new development in San Carlos, California was created in response to the growing need for space for life science players in the Bay Area, especially with the recent surge of interest in the category following the COVID-19 pandemic. The development will repurpose a parking lot and car dealership into a 123,000 square foot Class A life science building. The site was already built up to withstand heavy load and the development will repurpose the podium and existing solar cells, creating a development that is both economical and environmentally sustainable. Breaking ground is targeted for Q4 2021.
  • Location: 777 Industrial Road, San Carlos, California
  • Developers: Presidio Bay Ventures and Kinship Capital
  • Broker: Seller represented by Michael Jensen of Kidder Matthews. Leading leasing efforts are Marc Pope and Ben Paul of Cushman & Wakefield.
  • Architect: Undisclosed although Presidio Bay has engineers and design/construction experts.
  • Tenants: Have not been confirmed

3. San Carlos Biotech Campus, part of the Alexandria District for Science and Technology (Bay Area)

  • The site is 1.6 million square feet in size. Currently, it is occupied by existing decades-old buildings including the former headquarters of Kelly-Moore Paints. The space will be turned into six new buildings, an amenities structure, parking, and a park. The space sits across an existing project by the same developer, with both spaces eventually forming the Alexandria District for Science & Technology.
  • Location: San Carlos
  • Developer: Alexandria Real Estate Equities
  • Brokers: Randy Scott (Newmark), Brian Avery (ACCO Management), Scott W. Miller (Jones Lang LaSalle)
  • Architects: IwamotoScott Architecture, SurfaceDesign Inc, nbbj, DGA
  • Tenants so far: Vaxcyte Inc, Allakos Inc., ChemoCentryx Inc., Atreca Inc.

4. The Boardwalk (San Diego, California)

Understanding Branding in the Industry

  • Real estate has become lucrative and because of that competitive when it comes to the biotech and life science industries, meaning branding can become less important. According to CBRE’s “U.S. Real Estate Market Outlook 2020”, the category had an annual average investment of $18.7b from 2014-2019. At Kendall Square in Boston, rents have risen sky-high while vacancies have dropped. Some companies are reserving space in buildings for years down the road with the right to first offer.
  • This existing interest has accelerated due to the pandemic. According to Chris Haskell, Ph.D., head of Bayer’s West Coast Innovation Center, "If you look at activity from February through May, the repurposing of resources, the new companies that were formed and the investing that went into COVID therapies and treatments, it brought a lightning bolt of energy to the entire industry." This lightning bolt of energy has resulted in more companies flush with revenue, and more companies that need space built to their specifications to thrive.
  • According to Spencer Levy, chairman of Americas research and senior economic adviser for CBRE, "the biotech sector may be the single most attractive subsector within commercial real estate today."
  • On the other hand, branding becomes important because it is a competitive field with stringent requirements (due to the need for specialized spaces) and high expectations for investor returns. Leasing timelines have also been stretching out. In this situation, marketing can become the make-or-break component.
  • Finally, branding can become important because it's critical in the industry to choose an experienced life-science landlord. According to Geoff Sears, a partner with Wareham Development, “I think there’s some risk in going with a crossover landlord or someone trying to repurpose space. In particular, when a company conducts animal studies, these are really sensitive to external environments. If you get a landlord who doesn’t understand these things, it can impact your science in a way that you have to live with for a long time. Having experience and working with life science companies is really important.”
  • Branding still needs more focus. According to Nancy J. Kelley, president and CEO of Nancy J Kelley + Associates, healthcare, research and life sciences industry consultants, life sciences have to raise awareness, especially in the developers' market. This is especially important to get the incentives that make a space lucrative to the latter, including tax breaks, public support, and private investments. This branding must combine real estate with life sciences, meaning it has to be recognizable, inspirational, and exciting.

Life Science Branding Focus Areas

  • In this sector, branding has focused on traditional amenities to bring tenants on board, including food, fitness, and lifestyle resources. However, the life sciences sector has its own story and needs from real estate (such as locating them in clusters to aid access to funding and scientific resources), and each location would have its own individual story to suit. This focus on unique value proposition and story has yet to be fully developed for this market. However, this focus is very much needed since life science developments are both in demand and located near one another. Standing out on amenities alone is difficult. Instead, humanizing the work that is being done in the location is key, so companies have been taking pointers from other sectors that focus on the individual like hospitality and residential.
  • Another unique area for life sciences that branding needs to focus on is proximity to institutions. This is aside from other priorities that this unique category shares with other real estate ventures, such as access to talent, housing, a variety of amenities, and transportation. This focus is important because of the cluster model in real estate, where the success of a development is tied to its closeness to other institutions that are aligned with its goal like hospitals, universities, and other life science businesses. Analysts say that this cluster feature is extremely important to play up in branding, and if not then branding other benefits will need to do much more of the heavy lifting.

Examples of Branded Properties

  • Some examples of branded properties include Hood Park, which was developed by Catamount Management with work by the Neoscape branding firm. Their office/lab leasing team is Newmark Knight Frank and the architect is SMMA. Hood Park is an urban campus in Charlestown, MA that will feature nine buildings and access to Hood Green, a public amenity. It also features access to universities across Boston and Cambridge. Branding work included a film, a website, and renderings.
  • Another example is Innolabs in Long Island, with King Street Properties and GFP Real Estate. The architect was Perkins&Will and the broker is Newmark. Work done here includes brand strategy and identity, website, digital brochure, renderings, photography, film, virtual reality, marketing center, and digital marketing. The extensive brand work was done to position the location as a great destination in an emerging market. They currently have a digital marketing campaign ongoing to establish thought leadership on the growth opportunities for life science in NYC.
  • A final example is Cure at 345 Park Avenue South. The site was developed by Deerfield Management and the broker is CBRE. The building is positioned as a one-stop location that advances Deerfield's corporate mission to "advance healthcare® with the ultimate goal of curing disease". The campaign included brand strategy and identity, website, digital and print brochures, event collateral, renderings, brand teaser and building film, and digital marketing.

Forecasts for Branding

  • According to analysts, some aggressive broker teams have begun marketing earlier in the pipeline, targeting the incubators, investors, chief science officers, and similar personalities and establishing rapport much earlier in the game. Virtual sales strategies have also helped. However, these tactics require strong branding and appealing materials to engage short attention spans.
  • Other forecasts point to a change in the type of locations that will be marketed and branded. The rise of personal medicine and self-therapy means that medications might be made on a smaller scale, allowing for manufacturing to require less space and happen much closer to demand, covering more people in more locations.
  • However, branding may continue to be overlooked in the grander scheme of things moving forward due to the sheer demand that is coming down the pipeline. According to Rob Griffin, U.S. head for capital markets at Newmark Knight Frank, demand in the past was for 2 million square feet per year and about 1 million square feet of absorption. His company expects those numbers to flip in 2021.

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