Challenges of Worcester’s Biomanufacturing Park Recounted During WBDC Meeting

WORCESTER – If you build it, will biomanufacturers come?


That was a crucial question for a 30-member task force of state and local officials that led efforts to develop the former Worcester State Hospital campus into the city’s latest destination for biotech companies, according to Lt. Gov. Karyn E. Polito.


The task force, said Ms. Polito, was reluctant to move forward with the massive redevelopment project without assurances that biomanufacturers – with their jobs and investment in the city – would follow.


“We demonstrated that they will come, and I know that there is good news coming soon,” she said, hinting at a possible announcement that the park has found its first tenants.


At its 53rd annual meeting Thursday, the Worcester Business Development Corporation – developer of the 44-acre site – honored Ms. Polito and other members of the task force with the 2018 Robert S. Bowditch Economic Development Award for their work on the biomanufacturing park.


The meeting mostly celebrated all the people and time that went into laying the groundwork for the park, including the WBDC’s outsize role in the project.


But even the WBDC expressed skepticism early on about developing the park, its president and CEO Craig L. Blais said. Mr. Blais said he remembered telling Ms. Polito that taking on the project was “crazy.”


“It would be risky, it would require a lot of hard work, and there was the chance that it might not happen, given all the hurdles that we’d need to overcome to make this a reality,” Mr. Blais said.


Yet working over a period of just 24 months, he said, the task force deftly navigated complex title restrictions, tenant relocations and infrastructure upgrades to push the project through the Legislature and secure a developer.


“This incredible effort will put the final piece in place for a successful life sciences cluster in Worcester that includes the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, the Massachusetts Biotechnology Park and now the Worcester Biomanufacturing Park,” Mr. Blais said.


The WBDC held its meeting Thursday at the site of the future park, below a tent that stood in the shadow of the now-shuttered Bryan Building, one of the former hospital buildings designated for demolition.


When completed, the park will consist of 350,000-square-feet of manufacturing space, with room for 500 jobs in biomanufacturing, said City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr., who praised the WBDC’s role in bringing the project to life.


“The WBDC has always done the challenging projects that no one else can get done,” he said. “We’re on the site of one of those projects today.”


Carol Gladstone, commissioner of the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, said it makes sense to have the park at the former hospital campus.


Initially called an asylum, Ms. Gladstone said, Worcester State Hospital opened in 1833 as the first state facility for the mentally ill. At the time, the hospital was seen as an innovation in the field of mental health, she noted.


“Now we’re leaping into the 21st century, so the land that we dedicated for the treatment of mental illness will now accelerate the next generation of medication,” Ms. Gladstone said.