gm biomed/health care/mike1st/mark2nd DANIEL TAUB Staff Reporter VAN NUYS As early as March, construction could begin on a biomedical complex being planned for the site of a razed General Motors auto plant here. Although negotiations with potential biomed tenants are still pending, local officials say there is a good chance that some of the seven companies that have expressed an interest in the facility could move in within a year. Three local universities with students studying biomedicine also have expressed an interest in occupying space in the industrial back side of the proposed facility, said John Slifko, special assistant for technology policy to Rep. Howard L. Berman, D-Panorama City. The front side of the 68-acre site, located off Van Nuys Boulevard where the GM auto plant once stood, is being developed by Selleck Properties and Voit Cos. as a retail center with a movie theater. The 37-acre industrial back side is expected to include a section dedicated to biomedicine. “Most of the companies are willing to move into the facility now. It’s a matter of how long it is until the site is up and running and ready,” Slifko said. Slifko declined to identify the companies, saying he does not want to jeopardize negotiations on their relocations. The developers are planning to build a biomedical incubator, in which small start-up firms, researchers and university students would share space and resources to rapidly commercialize new technologies. UCLA, USC and Caltech all have expressed interest in being a part of the incubator, Slifko said. UCLA wants to launch a graduate program in biomedicine this year. But not everyone in the biomedical community is optimistic about the GM site’s prospects for success. David G. Anast, publisher of the Costa Mesa-based Biomedical Market Newsletter, said that while development of biomedical parks and incubators is positive, he remains skeptical about what kind of growth such developments bring. “The question in situations like this is whether it constitutes just shifting companies around, or actually creating new jobs. And that remains to be seen both in this case and in other cases on drawing boards across the country,” Anast said. Some potential participants in the biomedical park also say that their involvement is dependent on things outside of the control of the park’s developers or local government officials. For example, UCLA’s involvement could be dependent on whether its biomedical graduate program which would offer master’s degrees and doctorates in biomedicine receives approval for the next academic year. “When we’ve got approval, we hopefully will officially do something about it,” said John Mackenzie, associate dean at UCLA’s school of engineering and applied sciences. The GM site’s developers want to use biomedicine as a draw for the industrial park’s two other industries advanced materials development and information technology, both of which have ties to the biomed industry. Barney Smith, vice president of development for Century City-based Wou & Partners Inc., a development firm that is working on the facility, said that he has seen a lot of interest from biomedical companies, but that financial assistance might be needed to convince them to move into the park. “We’re looking for funds from public sources to help companies move in there,” Smith said, adding that publicity about the project from government officials would be helpful. “The biggest challenge is to generate the interest among the scientific community to locate facilities there,” he said. One possible source of both funding and publicity is Mayor Richard Riordan’s office, Smith said. Gary Mendoza, Riordan’s deputy mayor for economic development, said that he has met with both Berman’s office and representatives of City Councilman Richard Alarcon, whose district includes the GM site. “I think there is an opportunity to capitalize on the biomedical research done in this region. If we can pull it together, it has great potential,” Mendoza said. As far as economic incentives for companies go, Mendoza said one possible funding source is from a federal Economic Development Administration grant, which could provide construction money for biomedical companies. But Mendoza also said that money for the project could come from elsewhere within the city government if the mayor’s office decides that the project is economically viable. “If it makes sense, we might be willing to put some seed money into that,” he said. Outside of economic incentives, one draw for many of the companies is the facility’s close proximity to a new Metrolink station, the San Diego Freeway (405) and the Ventura Freeway (101). “The nice thing about it is that it’s centrally located near transportation corridors,” Smith said. Slifko pointed out that the site also is located near several well-known research facilities, including UCLA, USC, Caltech, UC Santa Barbara, Jet Propulsion Labs and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “Other parts of the country would just be exuberant that a high tech park could be so near so many prestigious research institutions,” Slifko said.