March 14, 2009

Ground Broken On Research Center

Katy Stech  /  Post and Courier

One-time mattress factory will become biomedical facility with latest equipment

Bill Mahoney, chief executive of the S.C. Research Authority, acknowledged that the term "groundbreaking" was a bit of a misnomer for an "Innovation Center" his group is helping develop on the Charleston peninsula. After all, much of the vacant warehouse that will house the new business incubator on upper Meeting Street will remain intact.

The structure, a former mattress factory, was one of the first buildings that had walls reinforced by steel, Mahoney explained before he and other local officials dug shovels into a staged pile of dirt. "That has helped us stay within the budget," he said.

Mahoney's state-chartered group, along with Medical University of South Carolina and the city of Charleston, are turning the site into a biomedical research facility that will be outfitted with the latest lab equipment and other high-tech amenities. The $5.5 million project is expected to be finished by November.

The SCRA, which will manage the facility, already has secured two letters of intent from small, unidentified knowledge-based companies –- one develops medicine and the other that needs a satellite office to oversee a local manufacturing operation. The Innovation Center is at 645 Meeting St., just north of the Ravenel Bridge on-ramp and off-ramp. The building also will have a police substation and community center.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley called the project's start a "milestone in economic development history for the Lowcountry." He referenced other entrepreneurial ventures that started out small, such as computer giant Hewlett Packard, which started in the founder's California garage. "Nowadays, you can't really do that in the biomedical life science field. You need quality space," he said. Design plans show central lab space that's surrounded by smaller offices. The facility could provide workspace for up to 50 researchers.