by Jason Theberge
Greater Boston retains the largest concentration of life sciences researchers in the country. With upcoming demand for over 3.75 million square feet of space, firms are competing for the 1 million square feet of space currently available in the market. This is according to the JLL Life Sciences Outlook, Boston/2015.
The Kendall Square neighborhood has been called “the most innovative square mile on the planet.” It is also one of the most competitive from a real estate standpoint. The Cambridge real estate market encompasses research facilities, venture capital firms, worldwide headquarters, startups, and talent pools from some of the nation’s top colleges and universities. The shortage of available space has led many companies to assess the value of moving outside the city, where costs are lower and opportunity is greater for new development projects and office-to-lab conversions.
With technology and processes rapidly advancing — and the recession fading — life sciences companies are on the move. Colliers’ 2016 Seminar revealed that many are renovating outmoded facilities or consolidating at new addressees, like Biogen did in its relocation from a build-to-suit in Weston to a new building in Kendall Square. Some companies are moving to other parts of Boston, such as the increasingly popular Seaport location or to the Longwood Medical Area, a world-class medical community.
Others are moving towards the suburbs, to areas still convenient to the city but with more available real estate to meet growing needs. Several factors are influencing the migration. Resources and amenities are abundant in cities like Waltham, there is easy city access down Route 2 from Lexington and Bedford, and cheaper leases can be found further north in towns like Wilmington and Beverly. The result is an expanding footprint for the life sciences industry in Massachusetts. To attract a top tier workforce, these companies are creating urban atmospheres on suburban campuses, designing settings that foster the innovation and collaboration that are essential ingredients to their success.
The high demand for space in Boston and Cambridge, as well as the call for new development in the suburbs, creates a huge opportunity for construction growth in the life sciences industry. However, it takes keen attention to detail and a highly specialized knowledge to build successfully in this market sector.
Construction in the life sciences arena is demanding. The construction process requires acute sensitivity, complete focus, and the capacity to anticipate complex needs. To be successful, the construction manager must internalize this industry’s fundamental mission to serve people and must understand that in life sciences, both technical and human stakes are at their highest. Partnering decisions are made based on the construction manager’s ability to manage risk, meet deadlines, maximize budgets, and truly understand the objectives of its life sciences clients.
A successful partnership between the construction manager and its life sciences clients depends on the construction manager’s understanding of the specific requirements of the instrumentation environments and industry regulations. Recognizing the impact that construction will have on existing environments is essential. Mitigating noise levels, vibration and quality of air issues is critical. Understanding the nature of longer procurement periods and the specific requirements of surrounding equipment, the meshing of operating procedures, and rigorously committing to environmental and safety standards are paramount for success.
Selecting the right project team for the job is crucial for a positive outcome. Maintaining a strong collaborative relationship between the client, the owner’s representative, and the design team is vital to the project’s success. The essence of partnering is trust. Maintaining a strategic, proactive, fully transparent approach to the client will keep projects on schedule and will deliver consistent results.
With careful partnering, the real estate and construction industries are both well positioned to benefit from the continuing growth of the life sciences sector in Massachusetts.
Jason Theberge is a project executive at Commodore Builders in Waltham, Mass.