LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The master developer of Lakewood Ranch will spend tens of millions of dollars during the next two decades to build a biotech business campus that is being promoted as a future site for national life sciences and health care companies.
Dubbed CORE at Lakewood Ranch, the planned 305-acre biotech industrial district got a soft roll out this week when Lakewood Ranch Commercial debuted a new brochure promoting the project. The company, which is the commercial arm of Lakewood Ranch master developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, plans to develop up to 4.2 million square feet of commercial space.
CORE stands for "Collaboration Opportunities for Research and Exploration."
Located between Rangeland Parkway and State Road 70 at Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, the future campus would be within walking distance of LECOM's medical, pharmacology and dental schools on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and near the epicenter of a growing higher education scene in East Manatee. It is also expected to give Manatee County a new hub of biotech business that can cater to companies looking to grow or relocate in Lakewood Ranch.
Kirk Boylston, president of Lakewood Ranch Commercial, said eight months of planning have gone into the campus. SMR has long intended to place some kind of commercial development there. It has now set its sights on biotech and health care.
"We spent a large amount of time up front just looking at the market," Boylston said. "We decided on life sciences and health care. The thing that's been missing is a place and a plan."
Boylston's company hired nationally known biotech architecture firm Flad Architects to do preliminary design work and develop conceptual views. The firm's vision, expressed in the new brochure, shows glass and metal mid- and high-rise buildings built in neighborhood-style blocks surrounded by trees, public spaces and lakes.
While some of the structures could soar as high as 12 stories, Boylston said SMR will emphasize natural features and recreational areas on the campus. Forty-two acres will be set aside for wetlands. Additional space will be dedicated to pedestrian and bicycle trails. In all, 100 acres of open space is planned.
Other construction at the campus is expected to include a 300-room hotel and conference center, 971,000 square feet of science and technology school space, retail development and some multi-family residential development.
The unveiling of the campus plan comes a week before the Sarasota-Manatee chapter of biotech industry group BioFlorida opens its second annual BioTech Expo at State College of Florida's local campus. Also during the week, the Bradenton Area and Sarasota County economic development corporations will recognize the industry during its Health Innovation Week.
Biotech and other technology- and health-related industries have been an economic development emphasis in Manatee County for several years. Businesses, including Alzheimer's research company the Roskamp Institute and wound-care product manufacturer BioLife have located in the Whitfield and SRQ areas in southwest Manatee County.
Sharon Hillstrom, CEO of the Bradenton Area EDC, said her organization has discussed CORE with SMR officials over the past few months. The plan dovetails with the EDC's new strategic plan, which targets the life sciences sector for growth. The plan also proposes a life sciences office park.
CORE, with its long list of amenities, exceeds the EDC's original vision.
"It's a unique concept," she said.
Hillstrom said the industry has potential. Consultants working for the EDC determined that employment in the sector could grow by 10 percent in the region. Jobs in the field pay more than $70,000 a year on average.
Brian Roskamp, communications officer for the Roskamp Institute, said adding a greater critical mass to the local industry should benefit the area's biotech climate overall. At the moment, it remains a relatively small blip on that national scene. In January a Washington, D.C. financial information clearinghouse ranked the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton area 97th out of 100 metro areas for science, technology, engineering and math-related employment. The area recorded the lowest annual median wage growth in the survey, as well as the lowest number of job openings in STEM job fields.
"It's important for us to have like-minded companies in the biosphere," Roskamp said. "I hope they can recruit a national pharma company or someone in the national technology industry to spur that development."
Making it attractive
Boylston said development at CORE will start within the next couple of years. The marketing strategy behind the project is to get infrastructure, including roads and building sites, in place quickly to make CORE more attractive to companies ready to make a move. Boylston said the project is unusual in that SMR is master planning it from the beginning, rather than opening the site and building it one structure at a time.
Three swooping boulevards through the site will give CORE its basic structure and link it to the surrounding roads. Wetlands and future lakes will further define its shape.
"We want to use natural topography to make it a better place for the users who eventually move into the project," Boylston said.
In addition to the physical infrastructure, Boylston said locating STEM-oriented schools on the CORE campus will support the project by producing the employees the companies there will need. He said those facilities, plus the local campuses of the University of South Florida, Florida State University, State College of Florida and the Ringling College of Art & Design, could give the area as a whole a reputation as a top-tier research area.
Lakewood Ranch Commercial will rely on more than just its brochure to promote CORE. Boylston said he is enlisting the help of local CEOs and philanthropists to do person-to-person networking to sell the concept to companies.
The focus of the business recruiting effort will be on companies outside Manatee County. Local companies would also be welcome additions, but Boylston said he won't actively pursue uprooting operations established elsewhere in the county.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.