Next stop on the Red Line: Quincy’s growing biotech hub
When Paris-based Biomodex opened a 3-D bioprinting lab in Quincy in February, it further boosted the biotech dreams of local officials.
“The Boston area is known as a biotech hub, and now we’re a part of it,” said Tim Cahill, president of the Quincy Chamber of Commerce. “We only have a small number now, but we’re expecting it to grow.”
Biomodex, which makes anatomical replicas for surgical training, is near the Quincy Adams T station and parking garage. The area already was home to Leukolab, a blood and bone marrow collection facility owned by California-based AllCells, as well as Ras Labs, which is developing polymer technology for use with prosthetic limbs. Both opened in 2017.
That same year, medical device maker Boston Scientific completed work on its solar-paneled customer fulfillment center at Quincy’s Marina Bay, while clinical trial manager ClinEdge moved from Boston to North Quincy. Beacon Clinical Research, located in Quincy Center, arrived in 2016.
While new development in Quincy is meant to bring in business investment generally, the city is particularly focused on making Quincy a home for medical, biotechnology, and related companies. One big draw is the city’s four Red Line MBTA stops. Repairs, upgrades, demolition, or construction is happening in or around each of them.
“We’re closer to the T here than we were downtown on the waterfront,” said Joan Chambers, ClinEdge’s vice president of marketing and strategy. “We have better access to the trains, and that’s definitely a plus.”
Megan Driscoll, CEO of biotech staffing recruiter PharmaLogics, agreed.
“We came here because we needed access to young people, and many of them were living in the city and didn’t necessarily have a car,” she said.
Red Line improvements are part of a massive wave of development in Quincy. For the past three years, simultaneous building construction and infrastructure upgrades have been remaking areas around the city’s T stops.
Quincy’s gamble on attracting business includes the aggressive development of commercial properties. The city now boasts over 350,000 square feet of office space just off Interstate 93, a 175-acre office park at Quincy’s southern end, and the former shipyard site of General Dynamics at Quincy Point. There’s more to come, as building projects around the city continue.
Quincy has been extra accommodating to biotech firms looking to move into the city.
“We don’t want them to just come in, drop their plans off, and leave,” said Maureen Geary, Quincy’s director of business and government relations. “We encourage them to come in before they start filing, to find out what the city would look for in a development project, so they don’t run into problems.”
With office and lab space becoming scarce and expensive in other areas around Boston, it’s no surprise that businesses like PharmaLogics are eyeing the southern end of the Red Line.
“In Quincy, office space is like half [the cost] of what you’d pay in Boston or Cambridge,” Driscoll said. PharmaLogics previously closed a Boston office because of rising costs.
New and renovated residential buildings also are in the works in Quincy, leading to concerns about rising housing costs for those who already live in the city. According to the most recent census estimates, Quincy’s median household income was $71,808.
The state’s affordable housing law requires communities to make 10 percent of their housing affordable in order to keep developers from avoiding certain zoning laws. Quincy came close — 9.6 percent — in 2016, according to the city’s Housing Production Plan, issued that year.
But as more residential buildings go up, the city may not be able meet the 10-percent goal, described in the plan as “very ambitious.” For one thing, Quincy exempted its earliest investors from affordability requirements. One of them was LBC Boston, builder of the 171-unit Nova Residences in Quincy Center. With monthly rents ranging from $1,500 for studio apartments to two-bedroom, two-bath units at $3,000, the complex opens later this year.
The City Council reinstated affordable housing requirements in 2017. But instead of including affordable units, many developers have opted to pay into Quincy’s affordable housing trust fund, which has collected more than $13 million from developers so far.
City Councilor Brian Palmucci is watching it all warily.
“I’m not opposed to biotech development,” he said. “We want to bring folks working in high-paying biotech jobs to live here. But we have an affordable housing crisis in Quincy. While they’re building workforce housing for biotech, let’s make sure that people living in Quincy can afford to stay here, and that we’re not only building for people that can move into expensive condos.”
Palmucci has spent the last five years pushing for changes in the city’s zoning code to require new buildings to include affordable housing.
“The thing is, they have to understand what ‘affordable’ means,” said Palmucci. “They’re saying, ‘Yeah, we have affordable units. We got two-bedroom units for $2,300.’ Well, that’s not affordable.”
As biotech firms build labs and manufacturing facilities, Rob Stevens, the city’s deputy planning director, said he also is hearing from nearby residents opposing the development projects. He is concerned that the city’s growth “could get hampered by NIMBY.”
“They ask if we can say no,” he said. “We really can’t. We’re trying to put it out there that we’re friendly. Quincy doesn’t say no.”
Cahill, from the Chamber of Commerce, said that Quincy’s neighborhoods of owner-occupied homes and smaller apartment buildings are remaining intact.
“We don’t want to overbuild, which I believe the Seaport and Kendall Square did,” he said. “We’re building millennial-driven housing, but we’re trying to maintain the quality of life in Quincy’s neighborhoods, so that people already here can still live here.”
But all agree that it’s too soon to know what the effect will be. After years of empty downtown storefronts, shuttered buildings, and a population that has been aging and shrinking, Quincy is still getting used to the changes.
“Redevelopment has made Quincy a more desirable place,” argued Stevens. “Now, it’s just a battle to find a balance for everyone.”
Palmucci, the city councilor, admitted that despite the housing concerns, he is looking forward to some of the benefits of biotech.
“The quality of jobs they are bringing to the area helps a lot,” he said. “It trickles down to the small businesses and startups already here.”
PharmaLogics could well be one of them. It has biotech clients in Boston, Cambridge, and elsewhere in the United States. But Driscoll, the CEO, said she never would have expected the current biotech influx when the company arrived in 2012.
“We didn’t move to Quincy because we thought there might be business here,” Driscoll said. “We just wanted a more convenient location. It’s just funny how things turn out.”