Just about any business venture involves a certain amount of risk. Getting a return on an investment obviously involves being willing to make an investment in the first place.
With that in mind, Lawrence and Douglas County officials are poised to take a reasonable step by purchasing and improving the former Oread Labs building in an effort to hang on to one local pharmaceutical company and attract other biotech firms.
The building, located at the intersection of Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive, currently is the home to CritiTech, led by Sam Campbell, who has been active in the Lawrence business community for many years. The firm, which is seeking a breakthrough on products that would reduce the side effects of some cancer-fighting drugs, was considering leaving Lawrence in search of expanded lab space.
The desire to keep CritiTech was the impetus for a plan for the city and county to purchase and remodel the existing lab building at a cost of about $2.9 million. Both city and county commissioners have supported the idea, and the Lawrence City Commission is scheduled to consider actions on Tuesday to authorize general obligation bonds to purchase the building.
If all goes as planned, those bonds will be repaid with income from leasing the building to CritiTech and at least one other tenant. The city and county will each be responsible for interest payments of about $20,000 per year over the 25-year term of the bonds. The community also will reap benefits in the form of increased jobs and wages feeding the local tax base if the project meets its projections.
The key phrase, of course, is “if all goes as planned.” No second tenant is committed to fill the space not used by CritiTech. There also are no guarantees that even CritiTech will stay in Lawrence for 25 years, but Campbell’s long history and strong ties in Lawrence make that more likely.
If CritiTech leaves, the city and county still will have a building it can market to other bioscience firms, but it also will have a debt to pay, with or without the assistance of lease income.
That being said, in this day and age, investing in the west Lawrence property is the kind of risk the community really can’t afford not to take. If we want to sell ourselves as a good home for bioscience ventures, we must provide the support and facilities those businesses need. The excellent bioscience research being done at Kansas University is a strong selling point for Lawrence, but it must be matched by economic development resources that support companies that want to use that research in commercial ventures. If Lawrence and Douglas County don’t provide that support, we can be sure that some other community will.
If, as expected, city and county officials move forward on this plan, every taxpayer in Douglas County essentially will become an investor in CritiTech and any other firms that share the west Lawrence space. Hopefully, that knowledge will provide added incentive for the leaders of those firms to make sure the public realizes a good return on its investment.