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University of Maryland opens doors to second UM BioPark building

Robbie Whelan
Daily Record Business Writer

The second research facility at the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s BioPark opened its doors Monday to a diverse group of tenants, ranging from large biotech firms to community-oriented job training programs.

Mayor Sheila Dixon, Gov. Martin O’Malley, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, Rep. Elijah Cummings, and UM President David J. Ramsay were at the ceremony, which included a symbolic groundbreaking for Building Three, now under construction on a Baltimore Street lot facing the parking garage.

The first BioPark building opened in 2005 on the 800 block of West Baltimore Street, along with a 638-space parking garage. Less than a year after its ribbon-cutting, Building One was fully leased to several large biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, including SNBL Clinical Pharmacology Center Inc., Alba Therapeutics Corp., FASgen Inc., and the University of Maryland Center for Vascular and Inflammatory Diseases. It now has about 200 employees.

BioPark Building Two, at six stories and 238,000 square feet, is twice as spacious as the first facility, and hosts a diverse array of tenants that ranges from Gliknik, Inc., a cancer treatment developer, and health research firm Westat Inc., to Baltimore City Community College’s Bioscience Institute, and a job training center run by Goodwill Industries.

The structure was built much more quickly than university officials expected.

“At the beginning, we did a feasibility study that said that it would be three or four years for every building, and here we are with three buildings up in that time,” said James L. Hughes, vice president of research and development at UM.

Funds for the second BioPark building were raised almost entirely from private sources by Wexford Science and Technology, the project’s developer. Wexford received $15 million in federal new market tax credits for the BioPark, and the city donated 10 acres of unused land to the developer, but Wexford has raised $128 million in capital investment so far.

“It has enabled us to go much quicker because we’re not waiting to assemble large public moneys,” Hughes said.

UM received about $2 million from the Department of Transportation for traffic improvements along Baltimore Street, as well as $600,000 more in federal money, which was donated Monday to the Baltimore City Community College’s educational initiatives.

Caroline Williams, president of BCCC, said that the college will move its entire biosciences program to one 38,000-square-foot floor of Building Two, and that the students and faculty in that program “can’t wait” to work and study alongside University of Maryland and private sector scientists.

“The beauty of the BioPark is that you’ll have students there who can interact with the bioscience companies that are headquartered there,” she said. “They’ll have the opportunities to intern with the companies there and learn about the various aspects of bioscience, and at the same time, our faculty will be able to have scientist-to-scientist conversations that will, in turn, influence our curriculum. It will be students, faculty and business people all interacting in the same place.”

Williams also said that BCCC will work with students from the nearby Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy and other city high schools as part of the community college’s mission to be a pipeline connecting low-income Baltimoreans to good jobs in the life sciences.

“The community college is sort of a hub that connects the work force with the population in general,” she said. “We see people who are in dead end job and want better jobs, or people who are unemployed and want to be gainfully employed. … This type of exposure and this type of opportunity really play well with the community and it really exposes the general public to the biosciences.”

Marco Chacon, an alumnus of University of Maryland and president and CEO of Paragon Bioservices Inc., which does cell culture-based research into vaccines and protein expression, said he decided in 2006 to move his company from the Johns Hopkins Bayview campus to the UM BioPark.

In 2005 and 2006, Paragon’s sales increased by 40 percent, he said. Its move to a 21,000-square-foot facility on the fourth floor of Building Two will double the size of Paragon’s old operation.

“The timing of the BioPark is right in line with our growth,” Chacon said. “In fairness to Bayview — it was a lower cost and very nurturing — but now we have to explore new horizons and expand to state-of-the-art facilities.”

Chacon said he will continue to foster a relationship with JHU, but that he is excited about several initiatives that are particular to the University of Maryland, especially its nearby Vaccine Development Center.

In her remarks, Dixon quoted black civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, saying, “Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest.”

The University of Maryland, Baltimore, she said, “has pulled off an extraordinary feat of harvesting, while still seeding.”