PITTSFIELD -- The city of Pittsfield could be in position to request that elusive $6.5 million state earmark to build a life sciences building at the William Stanley Business Park by this spring.
Pittsfield Economic Development Authority Director Cory Thurston said on Wednesday that PEDA and the city are wrapping up the first phase of a study to determine the feasibility of building a 20,000-square-foot structure in the business park, and they are about to embark on the second phase, which should be completed by the spring.
If all goes according to plan, officials could ask the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center to award the $6.5 million earmark to the city of Pittsfield by April or May, according to Thurston and the project's consultant, Rod Jane.
The MLSC is responsible for implementing the state's 10 year, $1 billion life sciences initiative that was approved five years ago. Pittsfield's $6.5 million earmark was part of that legislation, but for a variety of reasons the city has never received the funding.
PEDA is responsible for the development of the 52-acre business park, which has been proposed as the site for the life sciences facility, but the earmark was awarded to the city of Pittsfield.
Last week, PEDA's board authorized the allocation of $64,500 in agency funds for use as a "bridge loan" to the city to finance the project's second phase. PEDA is essentially advancing the money to the city of Pittsfield because city officials won't be able to take up the matter until the fiscal 2015 budget process begins next year.
Officials originally hoped to receive the funding for phase two directly from the MLSC, but were told that agency wouldn't be able to consider the city's request until April or May.
"To accelerate the process the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center recommended that instead of waiting for that period of time, the consensus was it would be a wise idea for PEDA or the city to fund phase two, so that when we went to (the MLSC) in March or April for a board meeting we would be asking for the larger package instead of the second phase," Thurston said.
In June, the city received a $55,000 grant from the MLSC to determine the feasibility of constructing a life sciences building at the Stanley Business Park.
According to Thurston, the second phase of the feasibility study will focus more on the actual building including the formalization of "partner relationships" the actual "structure and operation" of such a facility and formulation of a financial model.
The first phase of the feasibility study was intended to validate the concept for such a facility, Thurston said on Wednesday. The final report on the first phase of the feasibility study should be completed by the end of this week.
Last week, Jane told the PEDA board that he met with 70 different organizations in Boston, the Berkshires, and New York's Capital Region, and that the concept was well received by both industries and research institutions. He received letters of interest from 30 companies.
"Basically, they said we like the idea and would want to explore a partnership in a serious and meaningful way," Jane said.
Phase two will determine the seriousness of those commitments.
"We'll be looking in phase two for letters of intent or an MOU," or Memorandum of Understanding, Jane said. "Something to that extent that's more serious than a letter of interest, that defines more clearly how they would like to use the center, define what the partnership would look like."
He said the study will focus on two partnership possibilities: a lease commitment for large companies like Sabic or Crane, who would rent space in a life sciences building to test innovative concepts; and a membership model where small- or medium-sized local firms would pay a fee to access advanced design and manufacturing equipment that they couldn't afford individually but could share collectively.
"I would be a little concerned if we went into phase two and there were no letters of commitment," Jane said. "That would be an issue."
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