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Live-Work-Lab: Some Life Sciences Developers See Residential As Part Of The Puzzle

As life sciences sites and labs become more residential in character, with outdoor balconies, artwork and high-end amenities, it makes sense that they would finally include actual residential units, or seed nearby residential projects, adding a lab component to the live-work-play formula.

And with traditional anchors and anchor tenants, such as tech firms or large office development, losing some of their luster, life sciences has become, in the right market and neighborhood, a way to not only bring foot traffic, but also attract high-paying jobs

“The life science sector is really blossoming and powerful,” said Berkeley Investment Senior Vice President of Development Morgan Pierson, whose firm is working on the 176 Lincoln development, a forthcoming 5-acre mixed-use, lab-anchored project taking shape in Boston’s Allston neighborhood. “It’s because of what it brings the region in terms of jobs and investments.”

A rendering of the forthcoming 176 Lincoln development in Boston’s Allston neighborhood.

The 176 Lincoln development will mix in just about every kind of use: residential units, including affordable artist lofts, food and beverage offerings, space for a nonprofit arts center, office, retail and lab, all near a Harvard satellite campus. It’s part of a growing number of mixed-use projects adding a living and lifestyle aspect to larger life sciences projects. 

“We want to make it feel like all the buildings were built by different designers, but come together as a cohesive campus,” Pierson said. “We’re hoping a decent number of life sciences employees will live at the development.”

As more cities vie for biotech jobs, and more such projects take place in urban centers, life sciences developments have increasingly become part of mixed-use projects. That has led to more sophisticated designs as well as more cities pushing for life sciences as an economic development tool. 

Pierson said the 176 Lincoln project, which was fully approved in March and features labs along with 252 apartments and 10 affordable units for artists, works because of what biotech brings in terms of jobs and investments. But the inclusion of labs and apartments speaks to how the perception of life sciences development has shifted. 

“Scientists are people too,” Pierson said. “The view of the industry 30 years ago was a lab bench and white lab coat. But in the last 10 years, the designs of these buildings have really evolved, with compelling amenities.” 

There have been some major new mixed-use projects that have used life sciences as an anchor for commercial activity; Spark LS, a massive 109-acre project in Morrisville, North Carolina, will feature 1.5M SF of lab space across more than a dozen buildings, and include retail, amphitheaters and high-end dining.

Trinity Capital Managing Partner Walker Collier told Bisnow the project exemplifies how “real estate can be used to recruit and retain talent” and has also attracted multifamily developers nearby. In addition, national developer Jamestown has pushed a concept of post-pandemic mixed-use that blends advanced manufacturing, life sciences, film and TV, health and wellness, food and beverage and entertainment companies, as well as more traditional office space.

With an affordable housing shortage hitting all corners of the nation, it makes sense to include more housing options when adding the kind of labs and research spaces that attract high earners; many cities have seen biotech booms help accelerate their housing issues.

In Houston, the Woodlands megadevelopment helmed by The Howard Hughes Corp., which includes residential and commercial, will soon feature a biomanufacturing site. According to Vitrain Director of Investment Relations Marty Schnider, whose firm is partnering on the biotech facility within the master-planned community, it boils down to jobs and workforce issues.

Jobs at these kinds of facilities pay well, often don’t require even a two-year degree, and stand in stark contrast to other options, like an Amazon warehouse or service industry gigs. Vitrian has had luck talking to developers in other nascent life sciences hubs like Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado, with a similar pitch. 

“These developments can work next to residential communities,” he said. “They’re low-impact, and there’s not a lot of traffic issues because it’s not too high-density.” 

There has been high-profile backlash to some biotech developments in big cities, including the Blood Center debate in New York City last year, when Manhattanites living near a proposed biotech expansion pushed back over concerns of sharing their street with a large lab.

The end result, approval of the project with a shorter height that would create fewer shadows for neighbors, found the city council looking past NIMBY angst and the local council member, who felt unease about the size and scope of the lab development.