The Herald News, Friday, October 1, 2010 – Page A1
FALL RIVER — The University of Massachusetts has narrowed its focus to build a $26 million biomanufacturing research and training center either on its Dartmouth campus or at the Advanced Technology Manufacturing Center in Fall River, said James Karam, vice chairman of the university’s board of trustees.
“I think we’re looking at the ATMC to see if there’s enough land to put it there,” Karam said Thursday, following a board meeting the night before. “My preference, if it works, is the ATMC.”
The university operates the ATMC for venture start-up companies on 3.8 acres of land on the South Watuppa Pond.
As for the options of UMass Dartmouth selecting either of the business parks in New Bedford or Freetown near the Fall River line, Karam, said, “As far as I’m concerned, they’re both out of the running.”
The university needs about 4 acres for the facility it envisions as a magnet for life sciences spin-off companies.
Its spokesman, John Hoey, did not contradict Karam’s statements but would not confirm them either.
“My position is we still have work to do. I’m not going to get into any specific site or any specific proposal,” Hoey said.
He said he stood by his statement two days ago that “the university is in the process of conducting a detailed and professional analysis of all potential locations.”
“It will all become clear when a final decision is made. There are a lot of moving parts,” Hoey said. He emphasized the university’s $8 million investment and five years of research into the project before Chancellor Jean MacCormick joined state and local officials announcing a 300-acre biotechnology park a year and a half ago in Fall River.
Karam, the former board chairman and regional real estate developer, maintained, “They’re looking at these two sites.”
He also said university consultants Colliers, Meredith and Grew told him biomanufacturing expansion “does not have to be on a campus, but having the land in the region will certainly help.”
For months UMass has been noncommittal over where it might locate its center after Flanagan removed a 300-acre envisioned biomanufacturing park that was to be anchored by this facility and supported by $15 million in state funding.
Instead, Flanagan in May backed out of the priority development to pursue a tribal resort casino on the land tract.
That land sale remains under negotiation as the status of legalized gambling and the tribe’s pursuit of a land trust as a sovereign nation remain uncertain.
Both Flanagan and the head of the Fall River Office of Economic Development, Kenneth Fiola, reacted enthusiastically to the news Karam shared.
“I am pleased that UMass is coming closer to making its final decision, and in its final decision is considering locating at the ATMC,” Flanagan said.
“I will do my part to secure locating a bio-manufacturing facility at the ATMC or assisting them in purchasing adjacent land to allow them to continue to grow,” he said.
He and Karam, in separate interviews, said the location offered great growth potential at or near the ATMC and the adjacent $16 million Meditech software facility, accessible to the intersection of Route 24 and I-195.
New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang could not be reached for immediate comment.
Fiola confirmed the city has begun again to explore several sites “within the general vicinity of the ATMC” that could house the university research center.
They include two sites of between 4 and 9 acrese at and near 1450 Brayton Ave., and a 66-acre tract owned by Atlantis Charter School on Jefferson Street.
Not under consideration, Fiola said, is the former Quaker complex of demolished buildings on about 45 acres in the same general area rezoned for business and being developed by Karam.
“Now that the university has made a determination to locate either on campus or at the ATMC, we want to see if we can fortify our position,” Fiola said. He said UMass had not given the city an official decision.
The Redevelopment Authority, with little cash but considerable land assets, including the 300 undeveloped acres, would buy the land, Fiola said.
He said ongoing negotiations with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe have taken place that could impact such a land acquisition. He declined to release any details.
The Redevelopment Authority plans to meet sometime next week, according to Fiola and its chairman, William Kenney.
E-mail Michael Holtzman at firstname.lastname@example.org