First it was South San Francisco, then San Francisco. Now, Burlingame officials are ramping up their efforts to make their city the next biotech hot spot on the Peninsula.
A potential boost could come from a proposal for a 730,000-square-foot life sciences office complex along Burlingame’s Bayfront, which both the city and developer Millennium Partners hope will catalyze growth in the city’s biotech field.
Burlingame already has about 35 small- to medium-sized biotech companies like Juvaris, which develops vaccines and cancer treatments, and Epitomics, which produces antibodies for research use. But officials are becoming more aggressive in courting the industry.
For the first time, the city will send representatives to the annual BayBio biotech industry conference at the Burlingame Hyatt to network with companies, said Vice Mayor Jerry Deal.
In addition, an economic development committee that Deal sits on has been meeting with local life science companies to understand their needs — like a streamlined process for complex development projects — and gripes.
For example, when companies on the east side of Highway 101 complained about large trucks parking near their offices, the city passed height restrictions that have helped clear up the streets. The city has also changed its commercial zoning code to allow biotech uses.
“We’re trying to be proactive and to be very business-friendly,” Deal said.
“I think they’re getting it,” said BayBio communications director Travis Blaschek-Miller of Burlingame officials. “We don’t have a governor who’s calling up companies, trying to retain their presence, or recruiting out-of-state companies.”
The city this week approved what is expected to be a yearlong study of the Burlingame Point project at 300 Airport Boulevard, which could also be turned into general office space, depending on market demands.
“We’re trying to keep some options open, but we are excited, together with the city of Burlingame, to see if we can attract biotech to this location,” said Millennium Vice President Sean Jeffries.
Jeffries said the sizable complex could make a “major impact” on Burlingame’s biotech industry “with one project, as opposed to doing one at a time which would maybe not make a significant dent.”
The developer doesn’t yet have tenants lined up, though Jeffries said brokers are contacting biotech firms to gauge their interest.
Burlingame faces some competition nearby. San Francisco now has 73 biotech companies, thanks in part to incentives like a payroll tax exemption and plentiful parking in Mission Bay.
In South San Francisco, where Genentech was founded in 1976, city officials have designated a special zone for roughly 70 biotech companies to avoid conflicts with residential neighborhoods. That “cluster” has also given staff experience dealing with complex plans for laboratories and research facilities, said South San Francisco Mayor Kevin Mullin.
Blaschek-Miller said the Peninsula will likely continue to attract biotech, largely because of its proximity to large research universities. Still, South San Francisco’s Genentech — the county’s second-largest employer — opened a $400 million new facility in Oregon earlier this year, citing that state’s favorable tax climate.
That caught the attention of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, which is working on developing strategies for retaining its strongest industries, including biotech, said association President and CEO Rosanne Foust.
“I think we need to be poised and ready as the economy picks up,” Foust said.
The North Peninsula had one of the highest biotech space lease rates in the Bay Area, according to a 2009 BayBio survey of 82 companies.