Public-private lab celebrates opening

The collaboration includes the University, St. Paul and companies.

Than Tibbetts

Under the metal canopy leading into University Enterprise Laboratories, dignitaries, CEOs and researchers gathered to celebrate a unique collaboration of public and private arenas.

The $24 million project houses 16 labs working on treatments for anything from arthritis to wrinkles.

The laboratories, which are a nonprofit entity, are a partnership between the University and the city of St. Paul, along with many prominent Minnesota biotechnology companies that contributed more than $9 million.

Bob Elde, dean of the College of Biological Sciences, said the labs will help create great jobs for students who come to Minnesota.

“My students need a facility like this,” he said.

University President Bob Bruininks said the project helps the University’s research abilities and facilities. He said the plan is an important step in strengthening the University’s public-private partnerships.

“We’re pretty good with (public-private partnerships),” he said. “We need to get much better if we’re going to be a great, competitive university.”

St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly said the project was initially a “risky proposition” and that many people had to be convinced of the project’s worth. St. Paul purchased the building, formerly used by Target, for $7 million, he said.

The building, cornered by Highway 280, University Avenue and the University’s transitway, represents an intersection of several distinct disciplines, attendees said, including the connection between the biological sciences and the technology available to solve problems.

Kelly took note of the building’s strategic position next to the transitway by handing Bruininks a bus stop sign, suggesting that buses should stop near the laboratories.

The sign then allowed Bruininks to flawlessly execute a turn of phrase: “The bus stops here.” Bruininks added that a stop was being considered, along with additional student housing along the roadway, although building the stop would be difficult with students’ tight schedules getting between campuses.

Inside the building, business cards flowed as freely as the celebratory beverages, hinting that the lab’s design works as intended.

The open, central atrium area was designed to be a meeting place where researchers from the different labs could meet to discuss their work and exchange ideas.

Don Gerhardt, president of Medical Alley/MNBIO, a medical and biotechnology industry association, said the labs are an additional magnet to attract talent to Minnesota. He said the building’s design is representative of creating a more communitylike atmosphere in the industry.

“Great minds get lonely sometimes,” he said.