When Christine Mackay took over as economic development director for the city of Phoenix, one of her first meetings was with Tom Osha.
Osha is senior vice president in charge of innovation and economic development for Baltimore, Maryland-based Wexford Science & Technology LLC, and he was in town during January 2015 to see how Wexford might help Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University develop the Arizona Biomedical Corridor in north Phoenix.
In 2013, New York-based KUD International LLC had worked with Mayo and ASU and was planning to buy 225 acres of state trust land to develop the biocorridor next to Mayo Clinic’s hospital campus at 56th Street and Mayo Boulevard. KUD eventually backed out of the deal, opening up an opportunity for others to take over.
“I went with Tom up to Mayo and we talked about opportunities,” Mackay said. “I had done research on Wexford and realized these guys were the real deal and was trying to figure out a way to get them into Phoenix.”
The deal to develop a biocorridor with Mayo and ASU never materialized.
That same year, Mackay and ASU were in talks with Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the world’s richest doctor, to see how they might develop a research center together on a 7-acre parcel on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown. But that agreement eventually fell through by summer 2016.
That’s when Mackay called Rick Naimark, associate vice president for program development planning for ASU, asking if he would meet her for lunch so she could introduce him to Wexford’s Osha.
“At that lunch, we constructed the deal,” Mackay said.
As a result of that meeting, Wexford on Thursday broke ground on a $77 million research center on the north side of the Phoenix Biomedical Campus.
“We have a model for where and how we’re going to grow the company,” Osha said. “The model looks at the dynamics of the university, the city and larger region and looks at where growth is coming from — what sectors. Our model is one that blends university research, discovery, commercialization, startup activity, large company engagement, community outreach and brings it all together to create this innovation district.”
Phoenix has been among the top cities in the company’s location metrics for the past five years, he said.
When Doug Woodruff joined Wexford as vice president of development in 2016, he was put in charge of the West region, and Phoenix quickly popped up on his radar.
“Most of what we did was on the East Coast,” he said, adding St. Louis was as far west as the company had developed when he joined.
“When we looked at urban markets that have not only the commitments of major research universities, medical centers or research institutes, but all the urban attributes that young people are looking for and employers are looking for to grow their business, Phoenix popped right up the list,” Woodruff said.
That’s not to say developing a biocampus at Mayo’s north Phoenix hospital campus is out of the picture, he said.
“It’s early days as to what Mayo and ASU are planning out on the Mayo campus, but as those things gain momentum — and there’s plenty of ground out there — there’s not the same urban landscape,” Woodruff said. “I think we have to think about how do you make it so it’s where people want to be. Those are big challenges. What we love about the downtown market is the urbanity of that market.”
ASU President Michael Crow said the project on the Mayo hospital campus is not off the table.
“We’re still working on it,” he said. “It’s hard to find partners with capital, with courage, with willingness to innovate. I mean, the world doesn’t need another biocorridor. The world needs things that are beyond that.”
Meanwhile, the downtown Phoenix project will be transformational for ASU and the city, Crow said, as ASU continues to expand downtown.
ASU is taking some space within the Translational Genomics Research Institute building on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, Crow said.
“The assignment that we have is to stimulate research-driven knowledge enterprises to cluster in downtown Phoenix, which is different than a medical school mission,” he said.
With no state-funded capital budget to use on the site, ASU partnered with Wexford to develop the project, Crow said.
“If you recall from our deal we have from the city, we’re authorized to build 2.5 million square feet of space on that site,” Crow said. “So this building will represent slightly less than 10 percent of the capacity of the seven-and-a-half-acre site.”
Designed by Dallas-based HKS Inc., the 200,000-square-foot building will be anchored by ASU, but will have space for other tenants. ASU has subleased the land to Wexford for the new project, creating the first public-private partnership for the biomedical campus.
Norio Tsuchiya, regional design director for HKS, has worked with Wexford on several projects over the years. He said his team designed “fins” on the building, mimicking Saguaro cactus flutes that provide shade.
“The saguaro uses those flutes to shield itself at certain angles, which is what the fins do on this building,” Tsuchiya said.
The building has several other shade features throughout, including using the third floor as an overhang to create shade.
The location of the building near Roosevelt Row with its bars, restaurants and community-hosted events such as First Fridays is seen as a draw for employees who will be working in the new Wexford building.