Tuesday, October 27, 2009

First Centre for Business and Research tenants expected by end of the year

By Keith Lawrence, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Sunday, October 25, 2009 12:07 AM CDT
The transformation of an 86-year-old former tobacco warehouse at 1016 Allen St. into the high-tech Centre for Business and Research was originally scheduled to be completed by midsummer.

But Malcolm Bryant, the building's owner, said last week that he still expects the massive project to be completed before the end of the year.

"I would hope to have at least one, if not three, tenants moved in by the end of the year," Bryant said.

Alisha Hardison, owner of Dalisha's Desserts, won the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp.'s first eMerging Ventures Challenge. The business plan competition's prizes included a $15,000 investment award and a free six-month lease on office space in the Centre for Business and Research.

And Hollison Technologies, a local startup biotech company, has already leased space in the building.

Madison Silvert, vice president of the EDC and executive director of its eMerging Ventures Center for Innovation, said Friday that he's working with a third company that's likely to lease space in the center.

But if that company commits, he said, "They probably won't be ready to move in until after the first of the year."

Plans for the building call for research space for biotech companies as well as office space for a "business accelerator," a place where new businesses can rent as much space as they need until they're ready to move out on their own.

"There's room in the building for up to 30 tenants, depending on how much space they need," Bryant said. "It'll probably be more like 20, though, with a mix of sizes. But we want them to grow and move out into other locations."

Bryant said: "The shell, what we call the commons area, is practically complete. And we're finishing out spaces for three tenants. Plans are ready for the 'wet labs' in the northeast corner of the building. We're working on floor plans. Mechanical is about complete. It should be totally enclosed by the end of October."

Getting the doors and windows in will make it easier for work to progress as the temperatures cool, he said.

"There won't be anything like it in Kentucky," Bryant said. "It's going to be quite a landmark."

Silvert said he's talking with several out-of-state companies about space in the center.

"That building will be one of the jewels of downtown," he said. "It's an amazing building. I think things will really pick up after we go to the BIO International Convention in Chicago in May."

That organization says on its Web site that it "represents more than 1,200 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the United States and in more than 30 other nations."

Seven universities and colleges will be affiliated with the Owensboro center when it opens.

The list includes the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, Western Kentucky University, Murray State University, Brescia University, Kentucky Wesleyan College and Owensboro Community & Technical College.

The 37,000-square-foot brick warehouse was built in 1923 for the Southwestern Tobacco Co.

Plans to convert the two-story building into a high-tech center were announced in September 2008.

Bryant said he's "run into more opportunities than problems with the building. We're going to have more natural light than we had thought. We'll be taking advantage of the exposed brick and wood. We're putting bright colors on the walls. It's looking cool."

The EDC had expected to hear by now whether it will receive a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration.

Nick Brake, EDC president, said he's still optimistic that the grant, which had been expected in September, will come through.

"It has to be announced by a member of Congress," he said.

The money, which would be used to install "wet labs" in the Centre for Business and Research, would come from federal funds designated for communities affected by Hurricane Ike and its remnants in September 2008.

"Wet labs" are laboratories with water, direct ventilation and specialized piped utilities along with basic equipment.

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com