Where’s the hot research lab: At Georgia Tech or Fort McPherson, or both?

By David Pendered

One window into the challenge of creating a bioscience research center at the site of the closed Fort McPherson Army base is opening at Georgia Tech.

Tech is soon to start building a 200,000-square-foot bio-medical research facility on 10th Street, according to Tech’s capital plan. Fort McPherson intends to hire in February a master developer to help design the science and technology research center planned there, on 113 rolling acres.

The Tech building, slated for completion in April 2015 at a cost of up to $98 million, is to house new jobs funded by research grants. The expected innovations are to spin off exciting new businesses.

Dr. Jay Yadav

Dr. Jay Yadav founded a medical device company with research based at Georgia Tech. Credit: Atlanta Business Chronicle.

CardioMEMS is the perfect example of a high-tech start-up that grew from research based at Tech, according to Tech’s capital project report. Founded by Atlanta cardiologist Dr. Jay Yadav, CardioMEMS has gathered a string of awards this year for its successful commercialization of wireless, no-battery sensing devices that can be permanently implanted in the human body. The goal is to improve the quality of life for people with heart failure and hypertension.

All this research and new venture capitalism at Tech sounds a lot like the business model Gov. Nathan Deal and others envision for the research facility at Fort McPherson. Here’s what the governor says in remarks published on a marketing brochure:

“Our moment has arrived. We have the assets, we have the plan. Now, Georgia must build its legacy for scientific discovery and economic growth – a research park that will benefit our state and its people for generations.”

Fort McPherson redevelopment plan.

The planned research center at Fort McPherson would be built in the southeastern corner of the property. Credit: Fort McPherson Local Implementing Redevelopment Authority.

Jack Sprott says the Tech research center and the Fort McPherson research center are complementary, not competitive. Sprott has served since 2005 as executive director of the state authority overseeing the redevelopment of Fort McPherson.

“The more that Georgia Tech and our other institutions can build their academics and the work with the labs on campus, the better it is for the state of Georgia – which is what we’re looking for,” Sprott said.

The redevelopment plan that took shape under Sprott’s leadership puts most of its energy into the research center. On a driving tour of the base last Spring, Sprott became especially energized when pointing out the 113 acres where the center could take shape on the 488-acre base.

“The whole concept is to bring more expertise into Georgia,” Sprott said Monday in a telephone conversation.

“At Fort McPherson, we’re looking for the research to be more at the end of the line than what they’re doing on campuses,” he said. “This project is not meant to be so much for academic studies. It’s to be a collaborative space where scholars could work toward the end of the production period.”

How the market will react to the Fort McPherson plan is a question that will be partly answered Dec. 1. That’s the date of a meeting where attendance is mandatory for any developer who wants a piece of the Fort McPherson project.

Given that the redevelopment is to be a public-private partnership, light turnout at the mandatory meeting would not be a good omen. In these so-called P3 deals, the developer takes a piece of the profits as leases are signed.

The timeline in the request for qualifications (RFQ) sets a Jan. 12 deadline for proposals; interviews with short-listed candidates on Jan. 25; and selection of a master developer in February.

Engineered Biosystems Building at Georgia Tech

The Engineered Biosystems Building at Georgia Tech is to be built along 10th Street. Credit: Georgia Tech Office of Government and Community Relations.

Meanwhile, Tech has already named a short-list of three developers for the new Engineered Biosystems Building. The RFQs were due Nov. 10.

They are Cooper Carry, Inc.; Skidmore Owings & Merrill, LLP; and Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects LLP, according to the Board of Regents’ Office of Real Estate and Facilities.

Quoting directly from a document from the Board of Regents, research could focus on the following areas:

  • Integrated biological systems or systems biology
  • Cell based therapies, including molecular biology, cell biology and cancer research
  • Regenerative medicine/developmental biology
  • Design, development, and application of biomaterials with applications in regenerative medicine, diagnostics, and cell based therapies.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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