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Biotech plans a home in Miami's Liberty City


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From the December 3, 2004 print edition

Biotech plans a home in Miami's Liberty City

Brian Bandell

In San Diego, it's La Jolla. In Boston, it's Cambridge. In Miami, it could be Liberty City.

What do those two prestigious hubs for biotech companies have in common with one of Miami's least advantaged neighborhoods? Not much right now, but a developer's 2.2-million-square-foot project has attracted a Cambridge biotech to Liberty City in what could be the beginning of an industry hub.

MediVector expects to open with 50,000 square feet at Poinciana Industrial Park, which covers 40 acres southeast of Northwest 79th Street and Northwest 27th Avenue.

With manufacturing, research and training operations planned there, the private company plans to expand to 500,000 square feet at the site in its first five years, MediVector Chairman and CEO Api Rudich said.

"One of the attractions of the Liberty City property was to have everything in one place and to be fairly close to hospitals and university centers," he said. "We're near Jackson Memorial Hospital, Mount Sinai Medical Center and close to the University of Miami School of Medicine."

Partnering with research institutions is the focus of MediVector's business plan for its new facility. In Cambridge, the seven-year-old company has partnered with pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer and Merck & Co. to manage clinical trials and help bring drugs to market. In Liberty City, MediVector plans to spin off companies that will bring to market drugs discovered by small biotech companies and research institutions. The co-owned, investor-funded companies will share training and manufacturing resources and will partner will medical facilities to have access to patients for clinical trials.

"If you look five or 10 years down the road, you can see significant changes in drug creation mostly because the basic pharmaceutical industry models will change from chasing blockbusters to chasing targeted therapies," he said. "Florida is very attractive for access to the aging population and the African-American population is totally underserved."

The park's developer, Opa-locka-based Town Center Properties, has focused on revitalizing properties' distressed areas. Poinciana Industrial Park's first phase will consist of 1.1 million square feet, with 600,000 square feet of office industrial and manufacturing space, 60,000 square feet of retail space and 100 apartment units. The site will also have an outpatient clinic and a training center for biotech industry jobs.

The first building will be delivered as soon as late 2005, Town Center President Dennis Stackhouse said. He expects the now-abandoned property to ultimately support 1,500 full-time jobs.

By comparison, the research park planned in northwest Palm Beach County featuring the Scripps Research Institute has been estimated to produce 18,000 to 40,000 jobs. However, the early 2006 completion date for the first building is threatened by lawsuits from environmental groups.

"It's the only place you can cobble together 40 acres with the properties zoned, have excellent access to transportation systems and be near to the key ingredients like hospitals and universities," Stackhouse said of Poinciana. "It's just been overlooked because it's Liberty City."

Starting a new biotech hub in Florida could work well for a company like MediVector, which partners with researchers rather than developing drugs on its own, said David Fischer, VP of Plantation-based Goodwin Biotechnology. With advanced information technology, biotech companies no longer have to be near traditional hubs and it could be beneficial to move to a place with economic incentives, he said.

"I don't think Liberty City is out of the realm for biotech," said Michael Klotz, first VP of CB Richard Ellis' life sciences group. "Having a ready and able labor pool of trained and skilled employees will make it attractive."

MDC, FAMU to train workers

The county is discussing incentives for MediVector including workforce training grants, property tax abatement and a refund of impact fees, Beacon Council Assistant Executive VP Carlos Leonard said.

Poinciana Industrial Park is in the county's empowerment zone. Training grants could aid a program for Miami Dade College and Florida A&M University's College of Pharmaceutical Sciences to train workers for MediVector's local operations.

The specialized training will allow the biotech to build a local workforce and quickly adapt its employees to new manufacturing and research procedures, MediVector's Rudich said.

"To develop one's own manufacturing facilities, you need to have a terrific relationship with local schools," he said. "And that's why we have a relationship with Miami Dade College and, hopefully, the University of Miami in the future."

Biotech also planned in Civic Center

UM administrators haven't had contact with MediVector, but they're glad to see a new biotech coming to the county. The university is planning a 40,000- to 60,000-square-foot research and development park that would house biotech companies on its medical school campus in Miami's Civic Center.

The new building would greatly improve partnership opportunities for biotech companies with UM's research programs, said Ronald Bogue, assistant VP for facilities administration at UM. The university is negotiating with the city over a vacant site along I-95 near its medical campus that could house the new facility, he said.

A biotech hub in Poinciana Industrial Park could be synergistic to UM's plan to bring its research to market with local companies, said Camillo Ricordi, senior associate dean for research at UM's medical school.

"Generally, it's the opposite: New ideas and patents developed here fly to Boston," he said. "It will be an opportunity not to lose emerging technology that is invented here."

E-mail health care writer Brian Bandell at [email protected].

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another article about overtown


Developer expects profits with Overtown renovation

Ed Duggan

Miami's Overtown neighborhood around Northwest First Place and Northwest 17th Street had been compared to a section of Baghdad after a search-and-destroy mission.

One property there functioned as a crack house, inhabited, but without water or power, for four years.

Where others saw desolation, for-profit developer David Meunier saw desolation plus opportunity. He already had some experience with hopeless situations. In 2003, he had rehabilitated condemned buildings in the Wynwood area. To him, the Overtown properties were a huge challenge, but one that he could see made sense.

"I buy properties when they are in bad shape, almost unlivable, and redo everything from A to Z," Meunier said. "After completion, I upgrade the tenants to the point where my gross return range on my original investment is in the 38 to 42 percent range, then offer the properties for resale. My best customers for re-sales have been Europeans because of the strength of the euro."

In the Overtown neighborhood, he decided to rehabilitate 40 one-bedroom/one-bath and eight two-bedroom/one-bath Art Deco-inspired units.

It took $1.55 million in self-financing to completely rehabilitate the homes, bring everything up to code, and pay off more than $100,000 in back tax liens.

"There were more than $1.1 million in fines levied against the properties," Meunier said. "I went before the mitigation board and explained what we were trying to do. They understood and reduced the fines to $12,500 so the project could go forward."

Meunier worked directly with neighborhood enhancement and law enforcement teams, as well as African-born Bayunga Kaleuka, a local artist who resided in the community.

Kaleuka designed and executed murals on the buildings to give them an Afro-Caribbean flavor.

"David Meunier has been extremely cooperative and has brought forth safety, as well as improving life in the community," Miami Police Capt. Bernard Johnson said.

In size, the homes range from a tiny 450 square feet to a modest 600 square feet, but are ideal for low-income families - especially single parents, the elderly, veterans, AIDS patients and those on disability.

Occupancy is at about 80 percent, with rents in the $600 a month range, as a tenant-upgrade program progresses.

Meunier's next project? A 15-apartment building on Northeast 68th Street that the young developer plans to convert to condominiums.

"I've signed the contract and plan to close the transaction in two weeks," he said.

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