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Activation Capital seeking anchor tenant for forthcoming downtown Richmond innovation center

Activation Capital is seeking an anchor tenant for its planned 102,000-square-foot, $53 million innovation center and is looking to Under Armour’s corporate campus in Baltimore and Capital One’s 1717 Michael Wassmer Innovation Center in Richmond for inspiration.

The building, to be located in Activation Capital’s VA Bio+Tech Park in Richmond, has been planned for 20 years. The goal is to create an innovative place and add more laboratory space for the region. Kipton Currier, vice president of operations at Activation Capital, said the organization did a study a few years ago to find out what was needed.

“The critical data that we got out of the study was that we are out of wet lab space and dry lab space in the Richmond region, which is inhibiting our ability to grow in bioscience,” Currier said.

The organization, a nonprofit that serves as Virginia’s independent biotech research authority, has already secured around $30 million through grants and other funds, and it is seeking ways to top it off.

“We are looking to maximize our capital stack through a philanthropic fundraise, nominal debt and possible grants,” Currier said.

Another option is an anchor tenant pays to build out the third and fourth floors of the project. Currier said plans for the building are moving forward without an anchor, but the organization sees a lead tenant fitting into the innovation center’s overall financing. As well, the hope is that the anchor matches Activation Capital’s goals for the project.

“We are taking a multipronged approach,” Currier said. “We really have a vision for the biotech park becoming a live-work-play region of the city. We really see a vibrant future for the area.”

Currier said the anchor tenant should fit into one of the following categories:

A mature company: Like Capital One’s 1717 Innovation Center in downtown Richmond, the anchor tenant would be a mature organization that is interested in innovation and the Richmond community.
A growing life sciences organization: This would be something similar to Under Armour’s approach in transforming sections of Baltimore. Activation Capital would identify a growing life sciences organization that wants to build a significant downtown presence. Activation Capital believes that life science companies in Maryland and North Carolina may be interested in expanding operations to Richmond.
An advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing company: The Richmond-Petersburg corridor is becoming known as a hub of advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing largely due to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Medicines for All Institute and a regional cluster of activity. The tenant would be a player in that industry.
A growing pharmaceutical organization: An innovative pharmaceutical company might want to be located near VCU and the activity around the pharmaceutical cluster. A large amount of intellectual property is being spun out of the university.
A state partner: The state plays an important role in Activation Capital, and a state organization might want to become more involved in the project. VCU’s president and the state secretary of Commerce and Trade are ex-officio board members of Activation Capital. A representative of the governor’s office also sits on the board.

“We are being highly selective,” Currier said. “We are looking for the long term and want longevity for a partner, because that organization needs to align with our mission of deepening life sciences entrepreneurs in the commonwealth of Virginia. As well, it is going to take time to find a tenant that aligns to the community focus of the building.”

Construction is expected to begin in the spring of next year, and the work is scheduled to be completed in late 2025. Currier said Activation Capital is working with architecture firm Cooper Carry on the final designs. The building will have a K-12 education space and workforce development space. It will also serve as an incubator for startups in the life science industry. No plans have been developed for the interiors of the top floors.

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