Former Budd Co. Plant To Return To Manufacturing Roots, In Life Sciences This Time
The Philadelphia life sciences industry is starved for biomanufacturing capacity, and it may be about to get a smorgasbord of it in an area that desperately needs investment.
The former Budd Co. manufacturing plant near the Nicetown-Tioga neighborhood of Philadelphia will be redeveloped as a life sciences-centered campus heavy on production space up to the Food and Drug Administration’s current Good Manufacturing Practice standards, developer Plymouth Group announced Monday.
The property encompasses six buildings totaling 2.4M SF of leasable area, with the first 450K SF building comprising 300K SF of cGMP space and 150K SF of lab and office space.
That first building, dubbed Pioneer, has already seen major renovations inside and could be ready for tenant-specific improvements as early as Q4 of this year, the announcement stated. Pioneer and its neighboring building will be the first components that Plymouth will develop as Budd Bioworks within the Budd Campus, as it has named the overall project. Eventually, the company hopes to add other uses like residential and retail, Plymouth founding partner Michael Davis told Bisnow.
“Those [other uses] are a longer way away,” Davis said. “It’s so enormous, it was really important to take this in phases to get these properties activated.”
Parts of the project will also be built speculatively. Overall construction costs will rise to “hundreds of millions of dollars,” Davis told the Philadelphia Business Journal. Plymouth has brought in Centerbridge Partners as a partner to help raise the capital needed, as well as Colliers’ local life sciences practice, led by Joseph Fetterman, to lease the property.
Despite high demand, biomanufacturing space is still considered a risky proposition for some because of its extreme cost, but Davis said the low acquisition price for the property will help mitigate costs. Plymouth bought the site at auction in early 2019 for what PBJ reported at the time was $6.5M.
If the speculative portion includes biomanufacturing space, the risks increase exponentially, Tia Lyles-Williams told Bisnow. Lyles-Williams is founder and CEO of LucasPye Bio, a biologics contract development manufacturing organization, or CDMO.
The specifics of each company’s production processes, combined with the rigorous cGMP standards set by the FDA, make for incredibly specialized buildings, a fact Lyles-Williams said is being overlooked by some developers new to this type of construction.
“In the conversations I’m having with landlords, they’re not listening,” Lyles-Williams said. “They think they know more than someone who has more than 20 years in the industry, so it’s on them … Labs can be cGMP[-compliant], but if you build manufacturing on spec, you’re going to regret it.”
Complicating matters further is the potential for non-life sciences usage, which has more direct conflicts with biomanufacturing than it would for lab space or other asset classes, Lyles-Williams said.
“If you’ve got all these people running around this campus, there might be times when I can’t move my truck on time and my drug goes above [a safe temperature] sitting on a dock 一 you have a real problem,” she said.
The full master plan for the Budd Campus has yet to be finalized, and the first wave of tenants will be able to convey their operational requirements to Plymouth before any other uses are introduced. Who those tenants will be remains to be seen, but a 300K SF facility would be more appropriate for gene therapy and older forms of biologics than for cell therapy, Lyles-Williams said.
The biomanufacturing facility planned by Mosaic Development Partners and Ensemble Real Estate Investments at the Philadelphia Navy Yard likely won’t exceed 150K SF. For any requirements approaching the size of what Budd Bioworks can offer, tenants in the market now have few options beyond Discovery Labs in King of Prussia or farther afield.
“One of the things that makes this so compelling is the ability to locate manufacturing so much nearer to the brain trust and the employment core in Philly,” Davis said. “The ability to bring manufacturing that close to where the rest of the supply chain lives and to do it at the speed we can is really not something a lot of people can compete with.”
The Budd Campus was developed over decades, starting in the early 20th century, by Budd Co. to manufacture metal parts for trains, airplanes and automobiles. As manufacturing declined in Philadelphia and the greater U.S., the factories gradually slowed down production before ceasing operations in 2003. Its decline corresponded with disinvestment in the surrounding neighborhoods, leaving the area among the lowest-income parts of Philadelphia 一 one where the vast majority of residents are people of color.
“The hope is that these buildings being utilized the way they’re going to be should be a significant driver of the kinds of jobs that can be transformative for a community,” Davis said. “These won’t be warehouse jobs, they’ll be the kind of jobs that create meaningful opportunities, and we’re proud to be a part of that.”
Business leaders and economic development officials in Philadelphia have both pointed to life sciences, biomanufacturing in particular, as a growth industry with a rare opportunity to train and hire people who may not have college degrees and a path to stable, well-paying jobs. But because of its location within a historically underserved part of the city, the Budd Campus has the opportunity to make its development even more impactful.
“Just like you need workforce development for employees at these companies, you need enterprise development for nearby minority-owned businesses to scale up to service these facilities,” Lyles-Williams said. “If you have a laundry company cleaning curtains at the [Pennsylvania] Convention Center, then you can learn to clean lab coats or cGMP gowning; or a janitorial company can train on how to clean cGMP facilities such as cleanrooms for bioprocessing.”
If the Budd Campus reaches its full potential in terms not just of development, but of local and equitable economic growth, it would represent Philadelphia’s new signature industry, helping to close the gaping wound that the previous one’s decline left in an underserved community.
“It’s like bringing it back full circle,” Lyles-Williams said.