An increasing number of Madison companies, many at University Research Park, are searching for a local space to innovate and expand beyond their current quarters.
A nearly 10-story, 147,000-square-foot building called Element Labs may be able to provide that space come January 2024. The lab recently broke ground near the corner of Mineral Point Road and Whitney Way on the West Side.
The $60 million structure is part of a larger Park project known as the “Element Collective.” That multiphase venture, born of a desire to urbanize the Park a few years back, includes 400,000 square feet of new construction — housing, a hotel, the lab, offices, a food hall, a climbing gym and parking.
The lab project kicks off as there has been a particular push among the Park’s startups — those with 20 or fewer employees — to grow to 50-100 workers without taking business out of the city, University Research Park managing director Aaron Olver said. There’s currently no such space in the region to allow for that kind of mid-range expansion, he said.
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While University Research Park has been a launch pad for startups since the 1980s, Lisa Johnson, CEO of biotech company BioForward, a Research Park tenant, said the Element Labs is how startups would pursue “their next big step.”
“That’s the gap we are missing right now,” she said.
Of the 25 metro regions in the U.S. with the most life science workers, Madison is the only one with fewer than 2 million employees, according to a recent internal Research Park study.
The lab — the Element Collective “centerpiece” — is slated to house 1,400 workers from various company tenants once construction is fully complete, Olver said.
Element Labs is funded solely by private sources, he said.
The lab’s construction also comes as another resident of University Research Park — Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals — recently broke ground on its $220 million manufacturing campus in Verona, receiving $2.5 million from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
Olver declined to comment on the specific tenants expected to lease space at Element Labs, but said they would include both large and early stage companies.
In total, the 250-acre Research Park includes 126 companies with over 4,100 employees.
A closer look
Element Lab tenants would, according to a design concept from architect Perkins+Will, be housed inside a structure with a soaring glass curtain wall exterior and architectural “fins.”
The building’s interior would have enhanced HVAC, electrical and plumbing features to support general lab capabilities, such as a backup power generator, separate electrical metering by floor, lab waste drain systems and other amenities.
Specific lab amenities are up to the tenants, which are working with their own engineers and designers to meet respective company needs, said Park associate director Paul Muench.
The first floor of Element Labs would contain space for a restaurant, which Olver said would ideally be a local establishment. The project also includes space for community events and offices.
University Research Park continues its search for such a restaurant tenant, Olver said, as well as organizations considering the lab for their next home. Johnson said BioForward’s Women in Biohealth event could eventually be held at Element Labs.
Madison Ald. Keith Furman, 20th District, shared his support for the Element Labs project in an email Wednesday.
“The Element Labs project is a unique and exciting development,” he said. “It’s being built in a great location, with easy access to public transportation and the Beltline.”
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State Journal reporter Dean Mosiman contributed to this report.