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The Big Development Dreams Of De Blasio's $500M Life Sciences Initiative

In an effort to create thousands of high-paying jobs, diversify the city's economy and bring NYC's life sciences sector to the same level as Boston and Silicon Valley, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a $500M initiative, LifeSci NYC, yesterday morning.


A major component of the initiative is the mayor's plan to create 2.8M SF new commercial laboratory space.

Years of developers avoiding the costly asset class has caused the Big Apple to fall behind in life sciences development. NYC Economic Development Corp CEO Maria Torres-Springer said Boston now has 18 times the amount of commercial space available for life sciences companies as NYC.

To spur the development, the city plans to offer $300M in tax incentives, give targeted investments to medical centers and nonprofit research institutions so they can hire staff and move to larger spaces, develop five incubators throughout the city, and explore current and future rezonings to allow more life sciences sites in commercial zones.

The biggest aspect of de Blasio's plan is the Applied Life Science Campus, which will be developed on Manhattan's East Side or in Long Island City and parallel Cornell Tech’s role as a Millennial magnet and hub for training, research, development and innovation. The city plans to invest $100M toward its development.


NYC EDC SVP Anthony Hogrebe tells Bisnow the location of the campus, as well as its developer and architect, will be decided through a competitive proposal process starting next spring.

De Blasio said the location must have the space for potential expansion and the transit and connectivity needed for a flourishing neighborhood. Torres-Springer added the city will be looking for proposals that include private space that can be combined with adjacent, public land.

The campus won't mirror Cornell's (pictured), which was devised to deal with the city's lack of engineering and applied sciences talent. Life sciences is one of the city’s fastest-growing sectors and has grown 16% in NYC since 2009.

Rather than being primarily an academic institution, Hogrebe said, the campus would be "more of a hub for the ecosystem, a place where academic research and R&D in multiple disciplines can collide with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to produce commercial ventures and, ultimately, good jobs."

This catalyst role is desperately needed, he said, because NYC has lagged behind Boston and Silicon Valley in terms of investment. NYC only raised $205M in biotech venture capital through Q2 2016, while Boston raised $1.4B and Silicon Valley raised $1.2B. 

It's why size will be an important factor in considered proposals, Hogrebe said. While the city isn't set on any specific size, the campus needs to be significant enough to catalyze business and collaboration.


Hogrebe said the incubators, like the campus, will be determined by a competitive process open to both nonprofit and for-profit operators, but he said one possible model to follow is Harlem Biospace (pictured), an incubator in which the city has already invested. 

De Blasio compared the potential growth to the tech boom that's currently occurring after 10 to 20 years of investment from previous mayors. If carried through, the plan could increase annual economic output by $2.5B, attract $6.5B in private investment and generate $1B in tax revenue. 

Slated to create 16,000 new middle-class jobs (9,000 direct sector jobs, 7,000 in related fields), 1,000 paid internships and 7,400 construction jobs over the course of 10 years, it could also boost wages to match rising rents.

The initiative's costs will be spread out over decades, de Blasio said, so it'll only have a "modest" impact on the budget. Torres-Springer said she'll be working with the City Council to portion out the city's $150M contribution.

The initiative's tax incentives will be in the hands of the Industrial Development Agency and be portioned out over the span of 25 years. To avoid potential exploitation, like the state's incentives for financial firms, LifeSci's incentives will not only have requirements about job growth and incentive length, but there'll also be strategies to take back incentives in instances of noncompliance.