Launching A New Biotech Facility

May 17, 1994|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Sun Staff Writer

Grimy water dripped onto fine blue suits from 80-year-old ceilings. Funnels of dust obscured the podium. Wind blowing through a microphone rumbled through loudspeakers. And a hard-hatted Gov. William Donald Schaefer missed the bull's eye in his debut as driver of a Bobcat construction vehicle.

But 19 months and $47.4 million after this gritty beginning, the long-vacant Hutzler Bros. warehouse is slated to find new life as state-of-the-art research laboratories, speakers at the site of the University of Maryland Medical Biotechnology Center promised at a launch ceremony yesterday.

"I can tell you right now that this will be the place where some of the greatest medical inventions in human history will take place, so you are participating today in the making of history," Mr. Schaefer told several hundred invited guests.

Then he put on a hard hat, took a two-minute lesson in the Bobcat driver's seat and rammed the vehicle's demolition point through the ring just outside the bull's eye, shoving a dozen cement bricks out of a wall.

The biotechnology center is meant to advance two of the Schaefer administration's prime goals -- extending the Inner Harbor's imprint on downtown Baltimore, and positioning Maryland for a piece of the biotechnology growth that could fuel the state's long-term economy.

By the time the center opens in early 1996, the Schaefer governorship will be history and the Inner Harbor's bricks-and-mortar influence will extend from Fells Point in the east to the new biotechnology labs at the corner of West Lombard Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard.

But as with most of Maryland's hundreds of millions of dollars in biotechnology investments, the economic development impact will not be known for years.

"We have had many expressions of interest from academics at Johns Hopkins and UM and from a number of private businesses, but we're still more than a year from opening, so it's too early to try to nail down specific users," said Mary Moynihan, a spokeswoman for the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, operator of the new medical research facility and of five other biotechnology centers. "We expect to emphasize start-up companies at the center, but not to have any limits on the size or nature of the company that can work there," as long as its research aims work well with the academic research being done there, she said.

Built in 1914 and first used as a factory of the Morton Samuels Shoe Co., the 196,000-square-foot, six-story structure will be recycled into 70 laboratories with the advanced ventilation, maintenance and cleansing facilities needed for high-technology research.

It is intended to bring private-business researchers to work alongside academics, as a means of seeing that biomedical research gets translated into commercial medical uses.

By the time it is equipped, the state will have put a total of $53.4 million into it -- $2.6 million already spent to buy the warehouse from the city, $3 million already spent on design and planning, $40.4 million to convert the building and $7 million in capital equipment.

The new facility takes "a unique approach, encouraging interchange between academic and business researchers by having them share equipment, clerical and staff support zones and other common facilities," Edmund Tramont, the center's director, said yesterday.

Its facilities will include central laboratories to provide core services, training laboratories, an outpatient center for clinical research, manufacturing capabilities and business development services.

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