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‘Can’t Do Research In Your Kitchen’: South City Biotech Campus Set To Expand

Life sciences developer Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc. is moving forward with plans to expand its Gateway Campus in South San Francisco to meet growing demand for lab space. 

The South San Francisco Planning Commission approved a proposal for a new seven-story, 215K SF office and R&D building at 751 Gateway Blvd. east of Highway 101 on Jan. 21. The project would yield approximately 208K SF of lab and office space.


Based on the city’s zoning code floor area ratio for the campus, Alexandria is permitted to redevelop a horseshoe-shaped parking lot for the new building, according to South San Francisco Senior Planner Adena Friedman. 

“The idea is to really create a central hub within the Gateway Campus to kind of fill in that horseshoe area here, and really connect all the buildings together and create open space and pedestrian connections within the campus, connect the existing building, and focus on improving and activating the frontage along Gateway Boulevard,” Friedman said at the meeting.

Planning Commissioners posed questions at the meeting to the development team regarding leasing activity for the building given the current economic climate and with many people working remotely.

According to a Q4 2020 Bay Area Life Science Report from Cushman & Wakefield, Northern San Mateo County, which includes South City, had a vacancy rate of 6.5% and net absorption of 29K SF, up from 12K SF in the previous quarter. This is strong compared to the 2020 year-to-date life sciences net absorption for the Bay Area as a whole, which was -709K SF with vacancy at 10.9%.

A January 2021 report from Zumper showed that South San Francisco was one of the few Bay Area cities with apartment rent growth. Known as one of the region's biotech hubs, the city's relatively thriving life sciences sector may be contributing to stronger rent demand while many Bay Area tech workers have been fleeing to other markets. 

Alexandria Executive Vice President Terezia Nemeth said that although the building is not pre-leased, the project is moving forward because of demand, as demonstrated by a similar nearby endeavor by the company at 201 Haskins Way that is 100% leased with construction not yet complete.

“The life science market continues to be strong,” Nemeth said at the meeting. “It is not an office. You really can’t do research in your kitchen; it just doesn’t work that way.”

Nemeth added that several tenants of Alexandria properties have been working on coronavirus vaccines, therapies and treatments.

“We need to keep bringing product to market because there’s clearly demand,” Nemeth said.

The plans call for outdoor seating, plazas and landscaped areas that will connect the other campus buildings at 701, 901, 951 and 801 Gateway Blvd. The building’s design is marked by a facade treatment with multicolor glass and materials forming a DNA pattern, which will make it stand out along Gateway Boulevard, according to Alexandria Vice President of Development and Design Toon Jordan.

“We focus on outdoor collaboration space and designed the landscape so that it is suitable for walking meetings and encouraging our building occupants to interact outdoor and mingle and collaborate," Jordan said at the meeting.

Part of the proposal included offering 418 parking spaces, which is less than the city’s requirements. Planners supported the parking reduction due to the project’s proximity to the South San Francisco Caltrain station, as well as what Friedman referred to as the project’s robust Transportation Demand Plan. The area around the Gateway Campus has been plagued by high levels of traffic congestion in recent years.

“Over the past several years, the Alexandria real estate projects throughout east of 101 have shown great success and partnership with implementing their TDM plans,” Friedman said, adding that the company has in some cases exceeded requirements to shift commuters away from personal vehicles to other modes.