City vote paves way for access to new labs

Tuesday, May 8, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:51 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

On grassy fields along U.S. 63 south of Columbia, just before the town limit sign, ABC Laboratories is building new pharmaceutical labs in Discovery Ridge Research Park. The building is set to open early next year, but one thing might hinder business: There is currently no road leading there. The only way to reach what will become a 90,000-square-foot analytical laboratory for pharmaceutical development is by following the deep tracks of bulldozers in a dirt road.

Lenoir Street, an outer road parallel to U.S. 63, is the closest road. But Lenoir’s potholes, fine gravel and “no outlet” sign do not match the high-end image of Discovery Ridge, a life science research park on MU’s South Farm designed to transfer MU research into profitable business ventures.

On Monday, the City Council approved a call for bids to reroute Lenoir Street to go through the research park and serve ABC Labs, MU’s Research Animal Diagnostic Laboratory and other businesses expected to develop at Discovery Ridge.

“Lenoir Street as it exists today will change,” said John Gardner, vice president for research and economic development for the University of Missouri System. “It will be a central thoroughfare through the park.”

The planned rerouting is part of many infrastructure changes at Discovery Ridge meant to make the site build-ready for potential new tenants, Gardner said. Storm sewers are now being installed and utilities hooked up.

The UM System and Regional Economic Development Inc. are also reworking the marketing strategy to attract more businesses, Gardner said.

The rerouting is the first phase of a $14 million road improvement project in the area that includes the building of an interchange on Gans Road. The city will begin accepting bids in June and building should start in July, said David Nichols, chief engineer for the Public Works Department.

The roughly 2,000 feet of the new Lenoir Street, as well as the first 700 feet of Gans Road, are expected to cost $1.9 million, Nichols said, but the city could receive up to $1 million from ABC Labs to offset part of the cost of infrastructures that benefit the business.

ABC Labs plans to reassign to the city credits on state taxes that the company will receive through the Business Use Incentives for Large-scale Development program. The BUILD program allows the Missouri Development Finance Board to grant tax credits to “reduce necessary infrastructure and equipment expenses” for large business projects that demonstrate a need for funding, according to the board’s Web site.

“It’s one of the many incentives that we have to try and help companies that are trying to increase their presence in Missouri, create jobs,” said Spence Jackson, deputy director of the Economic Development Department, which first evaluated ABC Labs’ application for the program.

ABC Labs was created in 1968 by an MU professor and two graduate students and has operated in Columbia since. The company will start moving part of its operations into its new facilities at Discovery Ridge in the first quarter of 2008, but will also keep using its historical site along Interstate 70 east of town, said Kristein King, vice president of marketing for ABC Labs.

“ABC is the anchor tenant, the first company to settle there,” said Bernie Andrews, president of REDI, which worked with the company on its expansion. “Infrastructures are needed to allow them to expand.”

Under the BUILD program, ABC Labs will pay debt service on state bonds, and the state will grant tax credits in the amount of the debt service. The exact amount of credits depends on how fast the company will repay the bonds. The city could thus receive up to $1 million over 15 years or less but cannot yet budget an exact figure.

While the rerouting of Lenoir Street is the justification for ABC Labs to write a check to the city, the money will not go to this particular project.

“That revenue stream is dependent on so many things,” said Lori Fleming, director of finance for the city. “Until we get it in hand, we won’t earmark it for any particular project.”

The money will go to the city’s capital fund for road improvement, Fleming said.

“The city has to spend the money upfront, so any money that we get back on this project, which will be small amounts over several years, will cover other road projects,” Fleming said. “We all know we have a lot more need for road projects than we have funding for.”

A portion of this report first aired Monday during “News At 10” on KMIZ/Channel 17 ABC, Columbia.

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