Mayor Toni Harp sees opportunity in the current misfortunes of downtown’s Temple Medical Center.
The 250,000 square-foot complex of doctor’s offices (pictured above) and labs at 40 & 60 Temple St. & 200 George St. may have a big vacancy this spring, with no buyer apparently in sight.
It might make sense for someone to repurpose the complex for lab space for new biosciences companies, Harp suggested during her latest appearance on WNHH FM’s “Mayor Monday” program.
Some people have suggested the location might be a prime spot for new apartments. But Harp noted that local experts have also identified a need for space for start-ups. Harp said the city needs at least an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 square feet of more incubator space.
“It might be a perfect space for bioscience,” she said of Temple Medical. “That’s the logical place for us to grow.”
“The existing facilities at Science Park and 300 George Street are full of existing companies,” so the city needs to find new spaces for similar firms, agreed Michael Harris, a former Harp aide who now serves as director of the state-funded Elm City Innovation Collaborative (ECIC).
Temple Medical is an ideal location for bioscience start-ups because of its proximity to Yale Medical School, which spawns start-ups, observed Barry Schweitzer, a partner in the Elm Street Ventures tech-oriented venture capital firm as well as vice-chair of ECIC’s board.
“It’s worth taking a look at” at Harp’s idea, Schweitzer said. “It’s not like there are too many options out there.”
At least five to 10 start-ups are ready to move into local space if it becomes available right now through Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research, Schweitzer said. He predicted plenty more would emerge if New Haven finds the space.
Retrofitting the space to meet the needs of bioscience labs could be a challenge, Schweitzer said. It can cost four to five times as much to build out lab space as it does to construct traditional office space. The labs require much more power. It costs a lot more to handle the air, to keep it clean. “The duct work needs to be made out of steel.”
Schweitzer recalled how developer Carter Winstanley had to heavily invest in converting the former phone company building at 300 George St. into biotech space. A firm Schweitzer cofounded, Molecular Staging Inc., moved there about 18 years ago from a smaller space in Guilford.
Even space intended for biosciences — like the available floors at the Alexion Tower on College Street — often needs retrofitting for new occupants, because each tenant needs a separate air-handling system. “It can’t have air form one company mixing with air from another company; they might be doing different things,” Schweitzer said.
Schweitzer recommended that the city pursue state funding to cover some of the cost of retrofitting Temple Medical in order to make it more economically feasible to convert to bioscience labs.
Temple Medical, once on the front lines of healthcare industry changes, fell victim to a change in business models, most importantly Yale-New Haven Health Services Corp.‘s decision to move medical practices from the complex to the growing hospital corporation’s other facilities. Yale-New Haven has been Temple Medical’s biggest tenant; many doctors associated with Yale University’s faculty group plan to stay in the building.
On “Mayor Monday,” Harp was asked what impact Yale-New Haven’s changing business model will have on the city’s tax base, since some practices are moving out of buildings owned by taxpaying for-profit landlords. She said her administration has not done a specific audit, but does annually revisit how much the hospital is paying in taxes. She said her administration is pursuing ways to obtain more tax payments from the hospital.
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WNHH’s “Mayor Monday” is made possible with the support of Gateway Community College and Berchem Moses P.C.