After years of planning, construction is finally underway on the first building at Suffolk Downs, the 161-acre former horse racing track straddling East Boston and Revere set to someday hold 16.5 million square feet of new development.
A 280,000-square-foot life science lab and biomanufacturing facility is underway near the MBTA’s Blue Line Beachmont station on the Revere side of the project. It’s the first phase of a planned 500,000-square-foot life-science facility at the site, and a relatively rare example of biomanufacturing space being built close to the core of Greater Boston.
“The demand for that is very significant right now,” said Thomas O’Brien, founding partner with Suffolk Downs developer the HYM Investment Group. “This building is really addressing a lot of unmet needs in the market.”
Industry group MassBio in 2020 projected just 1.5 million square feet of so-called “GMP,” or good manufacturing practice, space to be built across Massachusetts, compared to 18.3 million square feet of research and development space. GMP is a set of requirements that manufacturers must fulfill when creating products that go into the human body.
The building at 100 Salt St. will house biomanufacturing on its first two floors, research and development labs on the three floors above it and then rooftop mechanicals on its top floors. The first two stories will each rise 24 feet in height — almost twice the height of a standard lab building — and there will be retail and restaurant space on the ground floor.
Those dimensions and the way the building is laid out would make it “very, very difficult to permit in Boston or Cambridge,” O’Brien said. While the huge Suffolk Downs project is located in both Boston and Revere, officials in Revere made commercial development more of a priority, while Boston officials focused more on housing.
The HYM team applied last week for a $40 million building permit to start digging a foundation, and has begun infrastructure work. O’Brien expects the first lab to cost about $280 million. Cathexis Holdings LP, a family office in Houston and Boston, is HYM’s capital partner on the building.
Beyond the life science space, HYM plans to start construction within about a month on a 470-unit apartment building at Suffolk Downs. Both the first lab and residential buildings are expected to wrap up construction by the end of 2023, with tenants moving into the biotech facility by mid-2024.
While lab development is booming now, it was a very different story a decade ago, O’Brien said. HYM spent five years planning and permitting what’s now called Cambridge Crossing — formerly called NorthPoint — a 43-acre mixed-use campus in East Cambridge, Boston, and Somerville. HYM and its partners sold the site to another developer, DivcoWest, in 2015.
DivcoWest has since landed massive life-science tenants there including a two-building, 900,000-square-foot lease for French drug giant Sanofi, along with the North American headquarters for Philips and a consolidated local research hub for Bristol Myers Squibb.
“It used to be those companies wouldn’t go anywhere outside Kendall Square. Now they’re in places like Union Square, they’re in … Cambridge Crossing,” O’Brien said. “The next community that can be part of this, we think, is Revere.”