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Economic Development Partnership advances $13.5 million Helix Center expansion

Economic Development Partnership advances $13.5 million Helix Center expansion

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Benson Hill Biosystems already hiring former Monsanto employees

FILE PHOTO: Greenhouse technician Brittany Beisiegel with Benson Hill Biosystems at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in 2016. Benson Hill is one of the companies that the Missouri Technology Corporation invested in. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership advanced a $13.5 million plan Wednesday to double the size of its Helix Center biotech incubator in Creve Coeur.

The plan approved by the Partnership board is intended to accommodate fast-growing Benson Hill Biosystems, a gene analyzing and sequencing firm that Partnership officials have said has the potential to “fundamentally disrupt” the plant science sector.

If finalized, the plan could help advance the Partnership’s efforts to make the area surrounding the Bayer (formerly Monsanto) campus and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center into a premier agricultural technology district. One of the area’s key assets is the 33,000-square-foot Helix Center. Opened in 2012, it provides technology startups affordable office space and access to wet and dry labs.

Benson Hill has operated out of the Helix Center for several years and has slowly been relocating its workforce to the St. Louis area from North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. It already takes up roughly 13,000 square feet in the Helix Center incubator and employs about 70 people.

Last month, Benson Hill announced it had received a $60 million investment from GV, formerly known as Google Ventures.

Partnership Vice President for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ginger Imster told the board a lease had been signed with Benson Hill this month. The agency paid $5,000 to law firm Blitz Bardgett & Deutsch to review the Helix Center Benson Hill lease.

Benson Hill leaders say that no final decisions have been made but that they would like to stay in the 39 North plant science district, and they have been working with the Partnership on a plan to accommodate their growth. The Helix expansion would add about 40,000 square feet to the incubator.

Imster said Benson Hill had until Jan. 15 to make a final decision on whether to proceed with the project.

As part of the plan, the Partnership approved a measure to execute a $1 million contract with KAI Design & Build for architecture, planning and construction management services for the project. Only as much as $200,000 can be spent prior to the finalization of the Benson Hill deal in January and Benson Hill will cover some of the initial costs if it decides not to proceed with the project.

The plan calls for borrowing as much as $13.5 million to finance the project. Loan terms could include using the Helix Center as well as the Partnership’s other startup incubator properties — in Wellston and Lemay — as collateral for the loan.

The Partnership has also discussed selling its business incubator in Chesterfield to help pay for the Helix expansion, though it took no action on that proposal Wednesday.

The Partnership still has to finalize loan terms, but its board approved minimal terms on Wednesday. It also hopes to win a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant to aid in the project.

It has been in discussions with Busey Bank for the Helix Center expansion loan, and Imster said the Partnership was “also looking into the possibility of public financing.”

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