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Developer plans more buildings in St. Louis' booming Cortex innovation district

Developer plans more buildings in St. Louis' booming Cortex innovation district

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As the newest Cortex building — a $53 million tech facility anchored by Microsoft — is slated to open in the midtown innovation district this month, the building’s developer is already planning its next projects nearby.

Mark Gorski, director of development at Wexford Science and Technology, said the Baltimore firm has had master planning exercises with design firm HOK for two new buildings that would likely be similar to the new Microsoft building at 4220 Duncan Avenue and the @4240 facility Wexford developed for $73 million in 2014.

“Because of the success we’ve seen with our other buildings, we’re anticipating future growth and are planning for that — we’re definitely in that (growth) mode,” he said. “We’re spending considerable dollars going down that road in terms of design and are exploring what the best use of that remaining space could be, but it’s too early to speculate on a timeline of when we may break ground.”

Gorski said the new buildings would be built next to the 180,000-square-foot 4220 Duncan building on what is now a surface parking lot at the intersection of Duncan Avenue and Sarah Street. Ventas, a Chicago-based real estate investment trust that acquired all of Wexford’s real estate assets and partnered with Wexford to manage that portfolio, owns the property at 4200 Duncan Avenue.

Cortex President and CEO Dennis Lower said the district also will start developing a 650-car parking garage on the site over the summer.

Cortex, the master developer of the entire 200-acre district about 4 miles west of downtown St. Louis, is eligible to receive up to $12.2 million in tax increment financing to help fund those projects. And while cost estimates weren’t provided, prior Cortex documents show total project costs within the Redevelopment Project Area 5, which includes the 4200 Duncan lot, to be an estimated $157 million.

Plans for the garage were paused for most of last year after developers decided the initial plan for a larger garage and 220 connected apartments was not financially viable. The apartments portion of that project remains stalled, while the construction of a $28 million, 129-room Aloft Hotel at 4245 Duncan Avenue is expected to begin soon. A new $13 million MetroLink station is also under construction nearby and should open later this year or early next.

Gorski said the new buildings would be focused on adding more IT and biotech lab space to the district.

Employment in the biotechnology research sector, along with money invested into such companies, has risen sharply since 2013, according to a study from real estate firm CBRE. Those trends have driven a shortage of available lab space in many metro areas.

The need for more lab space in Cortex and other areas like the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center corridor has been an issue for the last several years.

Responding to rising demand, Washington University and Cortex are spending $44 million to redevelop the 96,000-square-foot Crescent building at 4340 Duncan into affordable lab space.

Wexford, meanwhile, is filling the 4220 Duncan building. Tenants in the building will include Microsoft, the Cambridge Innovation Center, BJC’s WellAware Center, Venture Cafe’s Innovation Hall, Accenture and a new restaurant called the Chocolate Pig.

Gorski said Wexford is in negotiations with a large global company about taking space in the building. If that lease is finalized, the building would be 80 percent leased, leaving approximately 36,000 square feet still available.

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