As the world has come to appreciate in the past two years, advancement of research and the pursuit of scientific discovery is critical to our survival. New York City has unfortunately taken center stage through several phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the initial outbreak overwhelmed city resources and subsequent variants have also hit the city. But against this backdrop, New York has also emerged in a more enduring and positive respect—as one of the fastest growing markets for life sciences in the country and national leader in public health.
While established life sciences markets such as Boston, San Diego, and San Francisco have sustained continuous growth over the past years, emergent markets like New York have received increased financial support, from private and public sources, for companies and institutions engaged in research. The financing, which has reached record levels globally in both 2020 and 2021, has translated directly into increased demand for laboratory space—a need that real estate developers like Taconic Partners are racing to meet. In 2021, the city witnessed a record year for laboratory leasing activity, more NIH funding to local institutions than any previous year, and more than $1 billion in venture capital funding.
A primary mission of developers is to deliver high-quality, lab-ready buildings that have the infrastructure to facilitate discovery, attract and retain talent, and meet the day-to-day operational needs of tenants. How can New York’s life sciences developers achieve this type of success? By creating lab spaces within a portfolio where tenants can visualize long-term growth. For example, buildings designed with robust centralized systems such as air handling, acid neutralization, and backup power provide plug-and-play capabilities for future lab users. Similarly, amenity spaces such as roof terraces and conferencing facilities are designed to assist tenants in fostering positive work environments and collaboration for employees. Developers must work with tenants in the design and construction of spaces to meet their unique needs, from equipment to workspace arrangements and more.
But beyond the basics of developing lab-ready buildings, it’s also vital to to align with the tenant’s mission, to understand the science behind their research, and reflect their values. As New York remains at the leading edge of climate policy focused on decarbonization efforts, it’s important to design lab buildings with environmental sustainability in mind. For laboratory facilities, which by default are heavy consumers of electricity and other resources, being conscious of the carbon footprint requires creativity in developing energy recovery systems and implementing other measures to incorporate sustainability practices in lab build-outs.
At Hudson Research Center, located at 619 West 54th Street on Manhattan’s West Side, Taconic and Silverstein Properties recently welcomed C16 Biosciences with a 20,000 sq. ft. turnkey lab suite, delivered with the company’s mission as top of mind. C16 Biosciences is developing a sustainable, environmentally friendly alternative to palm oil, a product with a notorious environmental and geopolitical footprint. With funding from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, established by Bill Gates, and other investors, this company has set out to change the world. In constructing their lab space, Taconic endeavored to align with this mission, tweaking the space plan to accommodate the equipment needs for this unique user, including walk-in fume hoods, oversized autoclaves, and rearranged office layouts that cater to the workspace dynamics of this growing company.
Even before C16 Biosciences selected Hudson Research Center, the laboratory spaces were designed with sustainability in mind—the renovation includes the first large-scale installation of air source heat pumps at a commercial building in NYC, a solution for heating and cooling that will become more ubiquitous as the building industry turns to electrification to control carbon output.
As New York continues to grow as a life sciences hub, developers are scouring the market for suitable buildings that lend themselves to repurposing, a relatively more economical (and environmentally-friendly) way to create laboratory space in this growing market. However, this approach presents its own challenges. With zoning restriction and infrastructure limitations as well as the significant capital cost required to upgrade building systems, many developers have found it difficult to find space or take on the risks of investing in these renovations without tenant commitments. The strenuous process must include ample research and visits to buildings to assess their potential for life sciences conversion throughout the New York market.
125 West End Avenue on Manhattan’s West Side, an old Chrysler auto showroom being converted into a state-of-the-art lab facility, is slated to be the largest commercial laboratory building in New York City’s growing portfolio. Constructed in 1929 as a showroom for the Chrysler Corporation, 125 West End Avenue’s original cast-in-place concrete structure was specifically designed to transport automobiles from the spiraling, seven-story ramp to expansive floor plates. Balancing preservation and renovation, Taconic Partners joined with partners Nuveen and LaSalle Investment Management and with a design team lead by Perkins&Will and JB&B to design a modern facility that pays homage to the building’s historic use while creating a state-of-the-art life sciences facility.
The “helix,” a circular automotive ramp which previously allowed cars to be driven up the building to the roof, is an original feature that will be repurposed as a unique centerpiece with cascading shared spaces for tenant meetings and collaboration, spiraling up to a beautiful rooftop terrace with Hudson River views, ample seating and landscaping that will provide a respite for employees.
Another factor that helped with the conversion: up to 16-foot ceiling heights and 54,000-square-foot floorplates. The expansive layouts provide design flexibility for tenants in all stages to maximize their space and have “line-of-sight” to further space growth within the building.
Off-street loading options for deliveries and shipments also utilize the building’s original features and are unique attributes for any Manhattan commercial property. An existing vehicular ramp will be improved on the south side of the building, providing parking and a discrete tenant loading option on the second floor. Another oversized loading area at the ground floor will provide direct access to a new freight elevator that will access all tenant floors. This option will feature a three-berth loading dock and additional truck parking berths. Passionate about setting a precedent for more sustainable and energy-efficient commercial laboratory spaces, Taconic Partners, JB&B, and Perkins&Will embrace the city’s carbon reduction goals, including the landmark Local Law 97, in 125 West End Avenue’s design.
Understanding that commercial laboratories require significantly more energy than the average office building, the design team created a plan to supplement airside heat recovery with waterside heat recovery to double-down on energy capture and reuse within the building. Not a single unit of energy in 125 West End Avenue will leave the building, which drastically reduces consumption and carbon emissions.
As New York emerges from the pandemic and looks to the future, its growing life sciences sector is a source of inspiration and promise. In bringing turnkey lab/office spaces online at Hudson Research Center and a full lab-ready building at 125 West End Avenue, Taconic Partners is deeply invested in supporting the sector’s growth and helping further establish New York City as a place for discovery.
Matthew Weir is EVP, Commercial Asset Management, with Taconic Partners.