Plans for H-1, the first phase of the New Jersey Health + Life Sciences Exchange in downtown New Brunswick, call for three major components: a facility known as the New Jersey Innovation HUB, a new home for the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a center for what’s known as translational research. — Renderings by Elkus Manfredi Architects/Courtesy: New Brunswick Development Corp.
By Joshua Burd
The state has approved a $271 million tax credit for a plan to build more than 570,000 square feet of research and academic space in downtown New Brunswick, including a new home for the state’s flagship medical school and facilities for startups and entrepreneurs.
Part of a project known as the HELIX, or the New Jersey Health + Life Sciences Exchange, the plan is the first to be approved under the Economic Development Authority’s Aspire program, which aims to provide gap financing to developers. Plans call for three major components: a facility dubbed the New Jersey Innovation HUB, a new home for the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a center for what’s known as translational research.
The EDA’s board on Wednesday approved the 10-year, $272.2 million tax credit to NJ Innovation Associates Urban Renewal LLC, an affiliate of New Brunswick Development Corp., or Devco.
“Yesterday’s board approval represents an important step in our efforts to create jobs and revenue-generating assets in the innovation economy, with a particular focus on high-growth, high-wage strategic sectors,” Gov. Phil Murphy said. “The HELIX will bring the state’s corporate, innovation and higher education communities together and will provide the dual benefit of spurring the growth of startups and attracting global companies looking to benefit from a New Jersey location.”
The award is specific to the first phase of the HELIX, known as H-1, whose cost is estimated to be $750 million. Devco is the master developer of the 12-story, 573,400-square-foot building just south of Albany Street between Kirkpatrick and Spring streets, with previously committed anchor tenants that include Rutgers University, Hackensack Meridian Health, RWJ Barnabas Health and Middlesex County.
Both Devco and Princeton University also plan to have a presence on site, where additional plans include public space connecting to other key downtown districts.
“The creation of H-1 at the HELIX represents a singular opportunity to create a first-in-class ecosystem to fuel New Jersey’s innovation economy, allowing the state to reclaim its leadership of the American innovation economy,” said Christopher Paladino, Devco’s president. “This ecosystem will allow academic translational research to expand its connection to the innovation economy, state of the art medical education to lay the groundwork for a healthier New Jersey, the attraction of more National Institute of Health (NIH) research funding, and the NJ Innovation HUB’s establishment of a collaborative platform where companies will accelerate innovation and commercialization.”
According to the EDA, the HUB is the cornerstone of the overall H-1 project, including 59,125 square feet of incubator and research space, among other facilities. Another 69,832 square feet of the HUB will be dedicated to the project’s anchor tenants, with a building design and business model that emulates successful incubators and accelerators in places such as Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Meantime, the Rutgers Translational Research Facility will span 248,555 square feet of high-end lab equipment and support space, providing a place for collaboration among scientists from varied backgrounds. Rutgers has committed $270 million to recruit and retain researchers over the next seven years, the EDA said, representing the largest single investment in life sciences translational research in New Jersey history.
For its part, the new medical school will entail 180,142 square feet and allow the institution to relocate from a dated, isolated suburban location in Piscataway, the authority said. The new facility will provide immediate access to the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the Clinical Academic Building and the Eric B. Chandler Health Center.
“The HELIX will be transformative for Rutgers, for New Brunswick and for the entire state,” Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said. “This visionary project brings together academics, researchers and innovators under a single banner, it will create thousands of good-paying union jobs and will supercharge the innovation economy. Simply put, the HELIX will put New Jersey on the cutting edge of global innovation.”
Several years in the making, with Devco at the helm, H-1 received final site plan approval from the city last summer. Murphy announced plans for an innovation hub in New Brunswick in 2018, giving way to a high-profile groundbreaking in fall 2021 at the former site of a hulking, concrete parking deck directly across from the city’s train station.
The Aspire award also marks a key step for the long-awaited gap financing tool, which was created under the New Jersey Economic Recovery Act of 2020 as a successor to the Economic Redevelopment and Growth program. According to the EDA, the award will cover up to 40 percent of total eligible project costs, not to exceed $271.19 million in Aspire tax credits over 10 years, supporting an effort that has a net economic benefit to the state of $340.4 million.
“The Aspire Program was specifically created to support projects that revitalize our downtowns into premier destinations, enabling communities to better serve residents and help attract successful companies and top-notch talent,” said Tim Sullivan, the EDA’s CEO. “The HELIX, a signature part of Governor Murphy’s economic plan to recapture New Jersey’s role as a leader in innovation, will foster the growth of startups and new technologies in a range of industries and will benefit entrepreneurs for decades to come.”
The development team is also funding the project with several pieces of financing, including $400 million in tax-exempt bonds, as well as $260 million in equity that Rutgers has pledged.