The Center for Life Science | Boston (CLSB) is the largest privately financed research building in the Longwood Medical and Academic Area (LMA), a 213-acre (86-ha) campus in Boston that hosts two dozen medical, research, academic, and cultural institutions, including Harvard Medical School and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Originally developed by Lyme Properties of Hanover, New Hampshire, and now owned by San Diego–based BioMed Realty Trust, the CLSB was completed in 2008; many LMA institutions are tenants.
At the 2010 ULI Real Estate Summit at the Spring Council Forum in Boston this April, the mobile workshop “’Bed to Bench’: Collaborative Development in the World’s Most Advanced Medical Research Community” included a panel discussion about collaboration between public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders. Three of the panelists offer their insights here.
Sonal Gandhi is senior project manager for the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
Q: From the redevelopment authority’s point of view, when the CLSB was proposed, did the private sector aspect have advantages?
It was popular within the city because it would pay market-rate taxes. As you know, institution-owned facilities have a payment in lieu of taxes, which is significantly less than what they would pay if they were taxed commercially. When the idea first came to the city, it was a relatively new creature for us, but we worked very closely with our planning, economic development, and job-training staff to look at the pros and cons. The mitigation was good, the market was good, and the tenants were really looking for space for their researchers.
Q: What should developers and institutions know to ensure that a proposed development or expansion project will be successful for all stakeholders?
My mantra is “come and talk to us as soon as you have an idea.” We want to see successful development, but we also have to balance the impacts on the city. In Boston, institutions are required to file with the redevelopment authority a 10-year Institutional Master Plan, including not only developments that they know they are going to do, but also ones they are thinking of, so we can have a vibrant, healthy discussion about it, and there are no surprises.
Sarah Hamilton is vice president of area planning and development for Medical Academic and Scientific Community Organization, Inc. (MASCO), a nonprofit organization of institutions in the LMA.
Q: What kinds of services does MASCO’s planning department provide to institutions in the LMA?
We work with them to plan the common spaces—streets, sidewalks, traffic lanes, open space. We use our own money to carry out studies and implement the recommendations, which could be to plant street trees or fix traffic signals or conduct a long-range study of public transit needs. We do construction coordination and long-range planning, and we work as liaison with the redevelopment authority. We cohost the public community review process with the redevelopment authority for any large-scale projects, inviting neighbors to understand what the institutions are planning.
Q: How did MASCO’s involvement influence development of the CLSB?
When the CLSB was proposed, four other institutions nearby had developed or were developing parcels. We convened an abutter’s group to work together to make sure that the street paving, streetlights, sidewalks, paving treatments, tree planting, and signage would relate to each other from one parcel to the next. We made sure that all of the institutions agreed on a signage plan for the street—whether to allow parking, where pedestrians would cross, how the new through street would connect to nearby one-way streets—and completed the final paving and striping of the roadway.
Rick Kobus is senior principal of Tsoi/Kobus & Associates in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which designed the CSLB, and a member of the Urban Land Institute.
Q: When designing life science buildings for a private developer, what are key issues to pay attention to?
You want to build the least expensive, most appropriately serviced and flexible core and shell that you can. Part of it is getting the mechanical shafts right—building only as much shaft as you need and creating a shaft management program throughout construction. At the same time, don’t overdesign the structure. Very often in research buildings, tenants are looking for a highly stable floor plate. The usual response is to overdesign everything, but that adds tons of steel. For most scientific needs, it’s not required. Work with tenants to understand where they are going to have vibration-sensitive equipment and accommodate it there. You can always add more structure later.
Q: How do you handle separation of biological, radiological, and scientifically hazardous material?
You want to make sure that the responsibility for those hazards stays with the tenants. They are used to dealing with lab waste, but if you don’t make provisions, responsibility will accrue to the landlord. For instance, at the CLSB, the landlord owns the air on the supply side, but the tenants own the air on the exhaust side—because that air might contain hazardous materials. The same is true of the plumbing.