Lisa Barry, vice president, commercial Lending
Rockland Trust, Boston, Mass.
While Boston is best known for being home to some of the top colleges and universities in the U.S., it is also the epicenter of life science growth and innovation. In early 2018, governor Charlie Baker committed to investing $623 million over five years to various research and development opportunities within the life sciences industries in Greater Boston.
Capital funding such as this from the federal and state level, or from venture capital firms, positions these organizations to make significant strides towards solving the world’s top problems, such as Alzheimer’s or HIV/AIDS. However, they may find that the first battle is simply finding an EPA/FDA compliant laboratory space in a limited market.
This is where institutional real estate lending can bridge the gap between funding required to support these spaces and decreasing availability. But who are these institutional sponsors? Often they are public and private real estate investment trusts (REITS) or regional developers. Offering considerable capital and expertise, their backing has resulted in the expanded reach of life science organizations beyond the Cambridge/Watertown borders.
Daniel St. Clair
For instance, a partnership led by Spaulding & Slye Investments (SSI) acquired a portfolio of buildings including 900 Middlesex Tpke. Building 1 in Billerica, Mass. with a $20 million loan from Rockland Trust. Within one year, SSI re-leased the building to a life science organization, who was able to reduce rent while maintaining a top-of-the-line laboratory and development space. As recently noted by Daniel St. Clair, managing director of SSI, “Rockland Trust understands the capital-intensive nature of life science real estate investing and the range of tenant credit profiles in this space. They have been a critical partner in enabling SSI to successfully acquire assets and execute our business plans in Greater Boston.”
Navigating these transactions can be a challenge, as life science organizations are often pre-profit or pre-revenue, depending on the business life stage. Given financial support often comes from government grants (i.e., National Institute of Health), capital markets, and venture capitalists – funding for these smaller organizations is unpredictable and can dry up rapidly.
This requires us to “think outside the box.” To limit exposure to the bank, early involvement (prior to purchase and sale) with sponsors is key. The bank will then be able to identify risks and create unique credit structures to mitigate them. Evaluating the financial strength of a sponsor to carry a property during a potential market decline, as well as alternative uses for space, are crucial examples of what to also consider.
By working collaboratively with Rockland Trust, organizations like SSI (among others) successfully expanded research and development space outside of Boston proper. With this kind of traction it’s certain that life science growth beyond Greater Boston is inevitable and won’t be slowing anytime soon.