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Thursday, Sep 28, 2023


Plans to develop a biomedical and entertainment complex on Cal State Northridge’s 65-acre North Campus are gaining momentum, with additional companies and developers submitting proposals to locate on the site. In addition, another 12 acres may be made available for development as university officials consider relocating CSUN’s football field from the North Campus to a site on the main university campus. Original plans called for a 28-acre biomedical complex consisting of offices and manufacturing facilities for MiniMed Technologies Inc., a maker of medical devices for the treatment of diabetes, and a 20-acre entertainment complex consisting of offices and studios. But in the past month, the board of trustees for the North Campus/University Park Development Corp. heard presentations for several new proposals, including a proposed 10,000-seat sports arena and an in-line hockey rink. Also, Pacoima-based Medical Data Electronics has submitted a proposal to locate in the building and another company, One Lambda of Canoga Park, is expected to do so shortly, said Ahmed Enany, the executive director of the Southern California Biomedical Council in L.A. The Center for the Commercialization of Technology is in talks to locate on the campus as well. “The university can play a significant role in economic development, especially when it is related to academic pursuits,” said Rocky Delgadillo, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. “We have all these growth industries, but they’re all spread out. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could collect them all in one place? That’s the opportunity now for CSUN.” But adding new projects poses problems for the university. For one thing, most of the land available on the North Campus would be taken by the projects currently under development. If new buildings or sports facilities were added, it would mean changing the University’s master plan and reapportioning the land now dedicated to a 20-acre complex of entertainment companies and studios. As it is currently drawn, the master plan calls for a biomedical complex subleased to billionaire and philanthropist Alfred E. Mann. Mann is planning to break ground in May on the first of four office and manufacturing buildings and a $4 million teleconference facility that will be used by the University. MiniMed will take up most of the space, but Mann said he may also move another company to the site in the future. Mann will foot the bill for the building. He will pay 4.5 cents per square foot for an 80-year lease, or about $800,000 per year, for 28 acres. Escalators are built into the agreement, meaning the price rises over the course of the lease. The project will be completed sometime between 1999 and 2000. CSUN is at least four months away from identifying a developer for the entertainment portion of the master plan. The university has hired Lee & Associates, a real estate brokerage and advisor to entertainment companies based in West L.A., to conduct a feasibility study and identify potential developers for the project. It is unlikely that developers would attract major studios to the campus because of its location and the size of the space available. More likely tenants would be smaller, post-production companies and sound stages, according to Frank B. Wein, an architect with Pasadena-based Parson HBA, who is working as a consultant for the North Campus Development Project. “We’ve been told by people in the industry that there’s a niche,” Wein said. So far, CSUN officials are holding the other offers at bay, telling inquirers that the school is committed to its master plan, in large part because the plan has a great deal of community support. It was developed with the cooperation of a task force of area merchants and residents convened after an earlier plan created a storm of protests. That plan, CSUN’s first attempt at subleasing its land since a state mandate was issued to California universities to find alternatives to state funding, called for the development of a retail marketplace. “We didn’t think that plan, number one, was properly being used for education purposes and, number two, we didn’t like the idea of more retail being brought into an area that was already overstored,” said Dick Hardman, executive director of the Northridge Chamber of Commerce. Changing the master plan now would risk the gains the school has made in rebuilding bridges with the community. It would also make for bad politics to devote the North Campus to science and engineering programs and ignore the university’s arts and entertainment departments. “We do have programs that relate to other businesses, particularly entertainment,” said Dr. Arthur J. Elbert, vice president for administration and finance. “The more we can cast it (the master plan) in terms of helping more of our students and more of our faculty, the better it is for us.” Since its first plan fell through, CSUN has made other concessions as well. The biomedical lease will net far less money than the retail marketplace would have generated. That lease, according to Cousins Real Estate Corp. Senior Vice President John Hopkins the Newport Beach developer who was slated to build the project would have yielded $500,000 to $800,000 for 12 to 19 acres. CSUN officials said the lower income potential of the Mann project has to be balanced with the other benefits that the complex will offer. It is expected to bring opportunities for jobs and internships that a retail development could never have provided. “You can’t measure the value of putting our students into these facilities,” said CSUN President Blenda Wilson. “That is more valuable than an additional $400,000 a year from the retail center.” School officials also believe that the biomedical center will give the school visibility as a center for a cutting-edge industry in California. But to do that, the university needs not one, but a cluster of companies, in the same way that companies in the Silicon Valley developed in close, geographic proximity to each other, said Enany. By grouping these companies together, they can share ideas, form joint ventures, attract talent and the attention of venture capitalists. “If we were to fill the 65 acres, we would have a significant cluster of firms,” Enany said. “Total employment could reach 2,000. That’s one of the factors that can turn the tide on the biomedical industry in L.A.” According to the most recent statistics available, there are some 7,000 biomedical firms in Southern California, accounting for some $3 billion in revenues, Enany said. Many of the 2,500 firms in L.A. are in the Valley, but because they are scattered in Chatsworth, Pacoima and other areas, L.A. hasn’t received the attention Enany says it warrants for its biomedical industry. For that reason, Enany said his organization is working aggressively to place additional biomedical firms on the CSUN campus. He is working both with Medical Data Electronics and One Lambda, and said he gets dozens of requests from other biomedical firms that want to relocate to Southern California. Another organization, The Center for Commercialization of Technology, a group of engineers from the California Institute of Technology, the University of Southern California, and other academic institutions, is anxious to set up a facility at the university where it can pursue its goal of turning local research-and-development efforts into marketable products, according to CSUN’s Elbert, who said he is continuing to meet with the group. In the end, it all may boil down to the feasibility of the entertainment complex versus the availability of biomedical tenants. “The community at large is generally enamored with the entertainment industry, and we think that is a good thing,” Delgadillo said. “But if at the end of the day all that makes sense is a five-acre site for sound stages discussion still has to take place about the opportunity to develop a capital plan and whether CSUN is ready to step up to that challenge.”

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