LISA STEEN PROCTOR Staff Reporter
When Pasadena officials consider a plan this spring for boosting biotechnology in the city, William Opel will be there to urge them on.
Opel, executive director of the Huntington Medical Research Institutes, first proposed the idea of a biotech zone in a 1986 Pasadena Star News opinion page article.
Six years later the Pasadena City Council designated the area around Huntington Memorial Hospital as a site for biomedical and biotechnology firms. But little has happened since, and Opel and others now want the city to give the area a financial boost by providing development incentives and other measures to lure companies to the zone.
The proximity of the California Institute of Technology and his own research institutes make Pasadena a prime location for spin-off companies, Opel said.
“I don’t know any other technical university of the stature of Caltech that doesn’t have an affiliated research park,” said Opel.
Opel envisions a campus-like environment where both fledgling and established biomedical companies could locate where they can find the kind of unique space and support services they need to survive.
Opel wants the city to devote $30 million to the project half of which would go to developing an infrastructure, the balance to subsidizing development of the first few buildings within the zone.
The city’s Department of Housing and Development is now working on a specific plan to jump start the development of the biotech zone.
The final plan should be before the City Council by spring or early summer, said Bill Reynolds, Pasadena’s director of housing and development.
Reynolds said the specifics have not yet been worked out, but that it could include infrastructure development and incentives for developing facilities.
Eric Duyshart, project coordinator for the South Fair Oaks Project, said that the plan may also propose relaxing the current development standards for biomed companies.
City officials say that the zone could accommodate 1.2 million square feet of new construction and could have the campus-like environment Opel envisioned.
The tenants would have available various technical services, such as cell culture labs, and information services, such as libraries.
In addition, more established companies could lease the type of unique space necessary to accommodate the biomed industry facilities with such things as lab burners and centrifuges.
These efforts, say those in the biomedical industry, could not come soon enough.
Faiz Kayyem, founder of Pasadena-based Clinical Micro Sensors Inc., questions his ability to keep his company in the city given its lack of specialized space for biomed companies. “We believe it would be difficult for us to grow in Pasadena without such a zone being developed,” said Kayyem.
Kayyem, a former Caltech professor, says he wants to stay in Pasadena in order to be close to Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“If Pasadena even becomes a bit of a center, it would really make this place more desirable for us,” he said.
Yvonne Walkup, Pasadena’s Business Development Manager, recognizes the problems the biomed industry faces in remaining in the city.
“There hasn’t been the land, the buildings, the support or the kind of regulations that take into consideration the uniqueness of the industry,” said Walkup.