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LA Council Member Wants To Bring Bioscience Campus To Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw

A Los Angeles City Council member is looking at a long-empty development site in Baldwin Hills and seeing a bioscience campus.

A motion, sponsored by Council Member Mark Ridley-Thomas, proposes using eight parcels that the city owns plus nine parcels the city has the option to buy from the authority overseeing the remaining properties held by the city’s defunct community redevelopment agency to create one publicly owned property that could be leased to a private developer for a bioscience hub. 

“The Bioscience Campus could help expand the vitality of the LA's bioscience economy, nurture home grown talent, and contribute to the long-term economic health of the community and City at-large,” Ridley-Thomas’s motion read. 

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The view from the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook.

The parcels are within a larger site known as Marlton Square, next to the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Plans to redevelop it have stopped and started since at least the 1980s. Kaiser Permanente purchased a portion of the Marlton Square site and built a community-centered medical facility, which opened in 2017. But plans to turn a roughly 10.5-acre segment of the site into a shopping center failed to launch and discussions with the developer ceased in October 2020, the motion stated. 

“Marlton Square is an area of tremendous interest to the council member. It’s been blighted and underdeveloped for some time,” said Karly Katona, chief of staff for Ridley-Thomas, whose centrally located district straddles the 10 Freeway and includes Mid-City, Koreatown, Crenshaw and Leimert Park. The site is not far from 61 Bristol, a four-building creative office campus that Pasadena-based life sciences developer Alexandria Real Estate Equities purchased in early 2019

Ridley-Thomas, who served as a Los Angeles County supervisor before joining the council for District 10 in December 2020, promoted bioscience as an economic driver and job creator during his time on the Board of Supervisors.

“Bioscience is a high-growth industry sector that has put Los Angeles on an upward trajectory even in the face of economic headwinds,” Ridley-Thomas said in a statement to Bisnow. “Marlton Square, with its central location and proximity to transit, is an ideal location to grow and diversify the bioscience industry and create high quality and well-paying jobs in the sciences.”

Los Angeles’ life sciences sector is growing. A CBRE report published in October 2020 ranked Los Angeles 10th on a list of top life sciences clusters and said the city had a "relatively low" 6.2% vacancy and an inventory of 8.3M SF. The Los Angeles metro area, which includes Anaheim and Long Beach, has a number of traits that have so far proven critical for growth in the sector, including the second-highest number of graduates with STEM degrees after New York, a JLL report released earlier this month found. 

Building up space to accommodate life sciences uses will be a vital part of any growth in the sector, experts said. 

“Los Angeles has experienced ‘brain drain’ in the past because there’s not available lab space” here like there is in nearby San Diego or in the Bay Area, CBRE Senior Vice President Andrew Riley said. Companies that are looking to expand are often looking to move quickly, and don’t necessarily have time to wait for a space to be built out or converted, Riley said. 

“It starts with the real estate,” said Stephanie Hsieh, executive director of BioCom LA, the local arm of the trade association for the life sciences industry in the state, referring to how the sector will grow in LA. Hsieh said since joining BioCom, she has fielded more calls from developers and investors than she has life sciences industry members, which she attributes to the sector’s resilience during the coronavirus pandemic. Public-private partnerships like the one that is planned for this site will be key to supporting the industry’s expansion in Los Angeles, Hsieh said. 

The project is still in the early stages. The motion allows the city to get the ball rolling on exercising its option to purchase the land it doesn’t already own from the authority overseeing the community redevelopment agency’s remaining properties, also known as the CRA/LA. But things are expected to move quickly. Ridley-Thomas' staff said they expect negotiations to take about 90 days and for a request for proposals from developers to be out by the end of the year.