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University City Science Center Taps Harvard For New Head Of Real Estate

A rendering of One uCity Square (right), the next phase of Wexford Science + Technology and University City Science Center's uCity Square development district.

With University City Science Center's longtime head of real estate Curt Hess retiring, the industry nonprofit has selected his replacement from the world of academia: Timnit Abraha, most recently director of real estate at Harvard University. Abraha started as UCSC's vice president of real estate on March 1, bringing experience from the most competitive life sciences market in the world.

Though life sciences wasn't Abraha's singular focus at Harvard, the sector's explosion across the U.S. in the past three years drew more of her attention to managing the university's portfolio of owned real estate leased to major life sciences companies in Cambridge and elsewhere in the Boston area.

"During the last two years, we shrunk our vacancy from something around 11% to 2%, and it was predominantly life sciences spaces which were occupied," Abraha told Bisnow in an interview on Monday. "At Harvard, many of the tenants are not small, they’re predominantly established life sciences companies [that are] expanding.”

Though locals view Philadelphia's life sciences market as on the threshold of breaking into the sector's top tier of cities, from Abraha's perspective, the city presents an opportunity to get it on the ground floor, relative to Boston at least. That perspective is at least partially informed by the fact that one of the most prominent and successful tenants on UCSC's campus, now called uCity Square, is incubator Cambridge Innovation Center at 3675 Market St.

"Boston and New York are, I don’t want to use the word oversaturated, but to be here at the beginning, at least for me, is exciting,” Abraha said.

Early into her tenure, Abraha isn't sure how much of her duties will be devoted to managing UCSC's operational portfolio or working on the continued expansion of uCity Square, she said. For the latter, UCSC's development partner has been Wexford Science + Technology since 2015, with Ventas joining for the newest addition, One uCity Square, due to deliver this year.