Economic Development

Biotech gains ground in NYC: Sprawling research center planned in $1.6B Midtown project

Making good on its promise to inch its way toward biotech hub status, New York City is dedicating a massive space for life science companies to put down roots in a 105-year-old structure in Midtown.

Commercial real estate developers have been working to make over the old Farley Post Office Building, a Roman classic structure that spans two city blocks, into an elaborate transit hub to be called the Moynihan Train Hall. Now, the two firms behind the $1.6 billion overhaul have hired a broker with extensive knowledge of Boston’s real estate market and have developed a brochure for the train hall that markets the structure to the life science industry.

David Greenbaum

The brochure calls the space “Moynihan Research Center at Farley” and it highlights potential designs for laboratory and office space. Developers Vornado Realty Trust and Related Cos, which have a 99-year lease to develop about 900,000 square feet of office and retail space, told the Wall Street Journal that they’re targeting new industries that are rapidly growing in the city.

“Just as Google and Facebook have decided they need a major presence in New York, there is the recognition by life-sciences companies that for kids who are the scientists of the future, they want to live in urban areas,” David Greenbaum, president of Vornado’s New York division, told the WSJ.

This new real estate project is the latest development in NYC’s journey to biotech hub status. The city has seen a boost of life science activity in recent years, thanks to efforts made by the state and city to incentivize biotech to plant roots in New York. The moves appear to be working, with new entrants setting up shop in the city. NYU Langone Medical Center is collaborating with Cambridge, MA-based BioLabs to create a 50,000-square-foot biotech co-working center on Varick Street in Lower Manhattan. And the Long Island City Partnership is working on a plan for a life sciences center in that Queens district.

Nancy Thornberry

And a couple months ago, NYC’s economic development group told me it posted a “wanted ad” for an organization or joint venture to develop and operate a life science R&D campus in the city. New York is putting up $100 million in city capital and city-owned land to spur the project, which has been coined “LifeSci NYC Hub,” the EDC said.

“NYC has proven to be an outstanding place to recruit for biotech,” said Kallyope CEO Nancy Thornberry, who sits on the advisory council for the EDC effort.  “The scene is just beginning to grow here, and so there’s an untapped pool of talent of scientists from academia who are interested in working in biotech. There’s also a number of individuals wanting to make transition from pharma to biotech who want to live here in New York.”

Still, Thornberry admits the city has had a historical problem with finding space for biotech. WSJ reports the city has struggled to keep startups around as they grow.

New York has only 2.8 million square feet of rentable lab space, compared with New Jersey’s 16.2 million and the 26.8 million square feet in the greater Boston area, according to data from the spring of 2017 collected by real estate services firm JLL.

Image: Rendering of the Farley Post Office Building. SOM


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