Elk Run, the long-awaited campus for biotech firms between the Twin Cities and Rochester, might finally be showing signs of life.
Tower Investments officials confirmed Wednesday that they've asked for plat map changes to accommodate construction of a 200,000-square-foot building to house a biotech firm seeking to expand. The building would be constructed in phases, with the first phase being a 50,000-square-foot building. Officials hope to break ground in early 2013. Phase I would also bring about 200 biotech jobs to Pine Island, said John Pierce, Tower's senior vice president.
Pierce said he has a signed letter of intent from the company, which he said he cannot name. But Pierce also was wary of promising too much too soon.
"We are not promising anything. We are just doing what we do," Pierce said in an interview Wednesday. "There is a public process any time you build something. And this is the first stage of that public process."
Abraham Algadi, city administrator for Pine Island, said Wednesday that he is cautiously optimistic the move signals progress for a project that has been riddled with delays since it was first announced in 2007. Just this year alone, construction was pushed back, as issues with prospective tenants bogged down promised progress. Then, in June, it was learned that Tower Investments owes more than $741,000 in back property taxes and penalties, money that must be paid before any construction can move forward.
"Once bitten, twice shy," Algadi said. "You want to go after the innovators, the companies that help others. That's going to take time."
He added: "This is not a three-month growth cycle. This is an olive tree."
Still, Algadi said he remains confident the Elk Run project, which sits on a former elk farm, will one day house biotech innovation.
Pine Island sits along the Hwy. 52 corridor between Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic, and the Twin Cities. The Minnesota Department of Transportation plans to build four frontage roads that will connect Elk Run with a new Hwy. 52 interchange. Pine Island has invested $200,000 into infrastructure for the site, Algadi said, as part of a partnership among the city, the state, private industry and investors.
Patience is needed, he said -- especially considering the potential return.
"We can afford to wait," Algadi said, adding that despite the city's investments in infrastructure, it has been able to lower its property tax levy by nearly 10 percent and maintain its AA-plus bond rating.
The most recent jobs goal was for Elk Run to have 20 jobs by the end of the year and 182 by the end of 2019. If those jobs are not created, the city will owe MnDOT $3.65 million.
The biotech firm that signed the letter of intent to move to Elk Run would satisfy those overall job goals "and then some," Pierce said Wednesday. But, he said, it is unlikely that the 20 jobs will be on site by the end of this year.
"We hope to extend that" deadline, Pierce said.
James Walsh 612-673-7428