City officials hope private funding will hasten state life sciences funds
PITTSFIELD -- Even if the state approves a $6.5 million earmark for a business innovation center in Pittsfield, the city might not receive the money until 2017 -- nine years after it was originally approved.
But city officials on Wednesday said they are hoping if they can raise enough money from the private sector, the state will release funding sooner than expected for the center at the William Stanley Business Park.
The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority and the city of Pittsfield are entering the second and final phase of a feasibility study that must be completed before the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center can consider releasing that earmark, which was originally awarded in 2008.
The earmark was awarded to the city, but PEDA is charged with developing the Stanley Business Park.
PEDA’s Executive Director Cory Thurston said the two entities should know by April whether the MLSC will agree to release that funding.
"The leverage of the private funds we’re hoping will be a catalyst in support of that contract so we can receive the state support sooner than later," Thurston said following Wednesday’s PEDA board meeting.
"We don’t want to take anything for granted," he said. "If we can go in with leverage from private sector support right out of the gate as opposed to the state money later leveraging the private sector we think we’ll get a better chance of a big yes."
The 20,000-square-foot structure, now considered to be a center for business innovation rather than strictly a life sciences facility, is considered to be crucial to the 52-acre business park’s future development.
The MLSC is responsible for implementing the state’s 10 year, $1 billion life sciences initiative that was approved six years ago. Pittsfield’s earmark is part of the legislation, but for a variety of reasons the city has never received that funding.
According to Thurston, the city wouldn’t actually see the state funding for another three years because the MLSC has to fund other financial commitments contained in that legislation first before it can address Pittsfield’s needs.
"They’ve made all these other commitments," Thurston said. "So far they haven’t been funded to the full amount of the bond in any one cycle. Each year they go in for an appropriation from the Legislature to fund part of that $1 billion commitment that the governor had made in the original bond bill.
"But they didn’t just plop a billion dollars in a savings account and make it available," he added.
MLSC spokesman Angus McQuilken could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Even if they do receive the private sector funding first, Thurston said PEDA and the city still plan to pursue the funding in the state earmark.
"We plan to leave no stone unturned," he said.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi who is also a PEDA board member, said he was "guardedly optimistic" about the city’s chances of receiving the state funding, but "a little discouraged" about the timetable, which is why he is in favor of using private sector funds as leverage for the state to release the funds sooner.
"There may be private investors who may be interested in investing in the park, and rather than waiting for (the state) to release something why shouldn’t we take a two-track approach to it," Bianchi said after the meeting. "If there are private investors interested in doing something here I don’t necessarily want to wait for the life sciences center to finally cut a check.
"And that may be something that will stimulate their interest," he added.
Nuclea Biotechnologies of Pittsfield already has offered to move its recently acquired manufacturing facility from Cambridge to the Stanley Business Park if the MLSC will release the state earmark to the city. Nuclea’s offer is the only firm private sector commitment that PEDA and the city have received so far.
"We’re working with other private entities," Thurston said. "But we have no commitments."
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