PITTSFIELD -- The Berkshires' leading biotechnology firm has decided to withdraw from directly participating in the city's life sciences building project, a measure considered crucial to the future development of the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.
Nuclea Biotechnologies of Pittsfield dropped out of the project because the company is growing faster than the timeline for building the 20,000-square-foot structure will allow.
"We need growth now," Nuclea's President and CEO Patrick J. Muraca said Thursday.
Since purchasing the Cambridge-based American subsidiary of a German pharamceutical company last fall, Nuclea has gone from the development phase as a company to the actual commercialization stage.
Muraca said he is currently trying to find a location within the Berkshires to consolidate Nuclea's operations in one place to accommodate his company's expected growth.
"We purchased Wilex in September, and if we're really going to grow in Pittsfield we need a spot now, not 18 months or a year from now," Muraca said.
The city of Pittsfield is in the final stages of trying to secure a six-year-old, $6.5 million state earmark toward the construction of that building in the Stanley Business Park. The total cost of such a structure has been estimated at $9.5 million.
The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center is expected to decide either this month or next month whether the city will finally receive that money, but the actual funding won't arrive in Pittsfield until 2017.
The MLSC is charged with implementing the state's 10-year, $1 billion life sciences initiative, which was approved by the state Legislature in 2008. Pittsfield's earmark is part of that funding.
Pittsfield Economic Development Authority Executive Director Corydon Thurston said Nuclea had been considered a "key piece" in the development of such a building at the Stanley Business Park since the process began.
But Thurston acknowledged that Nuclea's timeline is different from the city's. Under the terms of the earmark, PEDA and the city can't construct a building solely for a private entity such as Nuclea.
"They don't really have a facility, division or piece of that company that fits in our facility at the present time," Thurston said. PEDA is a quasi-public agency charged with the 52-acre business park's development.
According to Muraca, Nuclea originally had planned to lease 5,000 square feet in that building, which was recently renamed the Berkshire Innovation Center.
Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, who also is a PEDA board member, said Nuclea's decision to withdraw from the project shouldn't affect the city's ability to obtain the state funding it needs to build the structure.
Project consultant Rod Jane told PEDA's board in April that he had reached out to 85 companies during the second phase of a feasibility study, and that 20 of those firms had provided him with a letter of intent, meaning they would be willing to pay a $10,000 annual fee to rent space in that building.
"It doesn't affect it at all," Bianchi said Thursday. "We're still moving forward with it. (Many) companies want to be part of the membership."
As the project progresses, Bianchi said it's possible that Nuclea could still be interested in leasing space in that structure.
"As we get closer to really opening the doors, their needs might have changed," Bianchi said.
Plans for the building in the Stanley Business Park have changed at least three times. The city and PEDA initially were interested in constructing an incubator building to give start-up life sciences companies space to grow. But after researching that angle, they decided to focus on bringing in life sciences companies that were coming out of the incubator stage. Officials haven't ruled out the pursuit of life sciences companies, but based on the results of the second phase of the feasibility study they are now focused more on local firms that supply materials to that industry.
Muraca said Nuclea met with Jane about a month ago to discuss the project's new direction.
"It was clear to us that we didn't quite fit," he said.
Muraca said he still wants Nuclea to remain in the Berkshires, preferably in Pittsfield. He wants to move Wilex out of the Boston area soon because the lease on its Cambridge facility is costing Nuclea $60,000 a month.
"We're definitely going to stay in the Berkshires," Muraca said. "We've looked in Lee. We've looked in Pittsfield. We've talked with North Adams. We're actively looking right now. We'd like to be able to find a spot by the end of the year."
But that spot won't be in the Stanley Business Park.
"Again, the problem is the timeline," Muraca said. "Buildings take too long. If you look around the area there's space all over that could be retrofitted and it wouldn't take us long."
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