South Oakland's tech strip to expand

| Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007

Pittsburgh's "technology corridor" is about to enter a major phase of development in South Oakland.

It's happening on a stretch of land sandwiched between Second Avenue and the Monongahela River where the Pittsburgh Technology Center already houses a collection of seven university and corporate buildings.

The city's Urban Redevelopment Authority, working with development partners including John Ferchill of Cleveland and the Regional Industrial Development Corp., has mapped plans for up to 11 buildings that would house just under 1 million square feet of research facilities, laboratories and offices, parking structures and a hotel.

"Building more buildings is a good idea. This is a great place to be," said John W. Manzetti, CEO of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse. The state-supported greenhouse works to build the region's biotechnology and bioscience industries.

It occupies about 21,000 square feet of fourth-floor space at the Bridgeside Point I building at the technology center, a campus-like business park developed on a 48-acre former Jones & Laughlin steel mill site in the early 1980s by the URA.

Its space includes a 13,000-square-foot incubator for fledgling life sciences companies that local leaders hope will join with developing technology companies to form the backbone of Pittsburgh's "new" regional economy.

With Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh in the city's cramped Oakland neighborhood attracting more than $1 billion a year in research dollars and spawning increasing numbers of spin-off companies, officials say more than 1 million square feet of space will be needed to house such firms over 10 years.

Over a four-year period, 24 companies have moved into and out of the incubator, including some that ultimately could have a need for the wet lab, for testing chemicals and other materials, and research space that Ferchill plans at his $46.5 million 150,000-square-foot Bridgeside Point II building at the technology center, Manzetti said.

He's been contacted by a number of out-of-town companies -- one from California -- looking for space close to the university and hospital facilities in Oakland.

It's that need that the URA hopes to fill at the Pittsburgh Technology Center, where the agency and the city will spend $19 million to support Ferchill's newest building with road improvements and construction of a 750-space parking garage.

Construction should start in September and be completed in about 14 to 15 months, said Don Kortlandt, acting executive director of the URA.

"I wouldn't be able to fill the building, but I could do a pretty good job in filling at least one full (22,000-square-foot) floor," said Manzetti. "There also are companies outside the city who want to move back, and it would just make it easier for us to attract technology firms."

"Expansion (of the technology center) would be ideal," said Matthew Bootman, of CrystalPlex, a small biotech company based at the University of Pittsburgh Office and Research Park in Harmarville.

The firm looked for new laboratory space closer to the universities in Oakland, but failed because of a lack of convenient, affordable space.

Manzetti and Bootman welcomed the idea that the authority recently put out a request for bids to develop a hotel at the main entrance to the park at Bates Street and Second Avenue.

"It would be a little easier and convenient," not only for people visiting technology center companies, but for prospects looking over the site for expansion or relocation opportunities, Manzetti said.

URA received feedback from tenants and prospective tenants at the technology center expressing interest in adding a hotel and other amenities, such as restaurants, said Kortlandt.

"The whole concept of the Pittsburgh Technology Center expansion really makes sense," said Robert Stephenson, president of the Regional Industrial Development Corp. "You've got to have some place to expand opportunities out of Oakland."

The RIDC is planning its own building at the business park -- a wing that would double the size of 2000 Technology Drive, a 70,000-square-foot building it owns at the western end of the site.

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