New Bedford submits UMD biopark proposal

By Charis Anderson
NEW BEDFORD — The city has submitted a formal proposal to UMass Dartmouth to locate a planned multimillion-dollar biomanufacturing facility on a 5-acre, shovel-ready site in the New Bedford Business Park.
The city, through the New Bedford Economic Development Council, also agreed to provide $3 million in low-interest project financing to the university, among other commitments.
“I think that the proposal is very strong and allows for tremendous future expansion and collaboration,” Mayor Scott W. Lang said. “New Bedford is ready to begin building this facility very, very quickly.”
Fall River also submitted a proposal to the university this week, according to Ken Fiola, executive vice president of the Fall River Office of Economic Development.
Fiola, who would not release the proposal, said it was a collaboration between the city’s Office of Economic Development, the Fall River Redevelopment Authority and the Greater Fall River Development Corp.
UMass Dartmouth spokesman John Hoey said the university will now do a professional analysis of the costs and benefits of each proposal for the university and the region.
The $22 million facility, which will be funded with a combination of state and university money, was planned originally as the anchor tenant in a 300-acre proposed BioPark in Fall River.
However, the Fall River Redevelopment Authority’s agreement in principle earlier this year to sell the land to the Mashpee Wampanoag for development as a casino forced the university to consider alternative sites.
The city, in partnership with the NBEDC and the Greater New Bedford Industrial Foundation, on Wednesday submitted a proposal that responded to a set of conditions released by the university on July 1.
The proposal was released to The Standard-Times on Friday.
“We already host five life-science companies (in the park), so it’s a growing cluster in New Bedford,” said Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the NBEDC.
“The UMass facility is one part — a very important part — of a larger story, and the story is we’re a very competitive place for biotechnology.”
The university listed eight requirements, such as a commitment to set aside at least 50 acres of contiguous land for development as a biopark and a commitment of other incentives that enhance the university’s investment.
The Greater New Bedford Industrial Foundation agreed to donate 5 acres in the business park; about 310 acres in the park are still available for development, according to Tom Davis, the foundation’s executive director.
“We have all the infrastructure in place,” he said. “It would really be an outstanding place for them to locate.”
The city’s proposal met all of the university’s requirements, although it did not include a list of other incentives.
“This request is too vague to respond to without further elaboration,” Lang wrote. “However, a true partnership will be established between all parties.”
In addition, the university required that New Bedford commit to transfer ownership of the former Naval Reserve Center, or NRC, to the university without any additional use restrictions.
The site would be used to expand the university’s School of Marine Science and Technology, or SMAST, according to the university’s request.
The university has been pursuing an expansion of SMAST for years, according to spokesman Hoey, and the Naval Reserve Center site is the most feasible location.
The city’s proposal committed to assigning all use and control of the NRC property to the university with the condition that the property will be returned to the city’s control if UMass stops using it for educational purposes.
Ownership of the land would not be transferred, but no taxes would be assessed and no rent charged, the proposal stated.
“I am absolutely supportive and in favor of building … an expanded SMAST facility,” Lang said.
But, he said, “I don’t believe that it in any way should color whether New Bedford is the best place for the biotech park.”
Lang said he will enter into a use-and-control agreement with the university regardless of the decision on the biomanufacturing facility, a position he said he has maintained since he took office.
However, he will not consider transferring ownership of the land, he said.
State Sen. Mark C.W. Montigny, D-New Bedford, said that although it is legitimate to put the NRC property on the table for discussion, it should not bias the decision against New Bedford.
“The one thing I will not allow is that the city be held hostage because of the Naval Reserve Center,” he said.
The Fall River proposal locates the UMass facility on a parcel that is part of 300 acres in Freetown next to the Stop & Shop distribution center, Fiola said.
The parcel is privately owned, but it is zoned appropriately for the UMass facility and a biopark, he said.
“We answered each of (the university’s) questions,” he said. “I think we have a proposal that’s worthy of serious consideration.”
Hoey said there is no deadline for the university’s review of the proposals.
“We don’t want to drag it out forever, but we want to make a very solid decision that’s really based on the merits of any proposals,” he said.
July 24, 2010
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