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High-tech firm files plans for Lawrence expansion; LMH provides more details on plan to tear down houses for parking
Finally, a Lawrence business that makes something smaller, other than my wallet. I’ve reported several times over the years about Crititech, a Lawrence-based high-tech firm that makes drug particles smaller. The latest news on the company is it has filed plans to expand its North Lawrence headquarters and laboratory.
Crititech has filed plans with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department to build a 4,100 square-foot laboratory, research and production building at 1849 E. 1450 Road. If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it is just north of the North Lawrence city limits, next to the large Heetco propane station.
I’m waiting to hear back from Crititech officials to learn more about the project, but it appears to be a significant expansion. The company currently operates out of an approximately 10,000 square-foot laboratory, research and office building. The application for the project states the need for the expansion is due to company growth. It also says the company will be processing two types of products, and FDA regulations require the work to be done in separate building. Hence, the expansion.
The big question is whether the expansion will result in any new jobs at the company, which generally employs researchers and other good-paying scientific positions. I haven’t heard on that, but I’ll let you know when I do.
The company moved from west Lawrence to North Lawrence in 2013 to give itself more space for growth. At that time, the company had about 10 Lawrence employees, but company leaders then said they could envision that growing to about 50 in five years.
What does the company do that has it growing? In a nutshell, it provides technology to other drug companies that are looking to make their pharmaceutical products more palatable to the body. Often times, that means making the drug particles smaller. For instance, if you can make a drug particle smaller, a pharmaceutical that once had to be taken orally might be able to be delivered through a patch, an inhaler, injections or some other type of less invasive delivery method. Sometimes the smaller particles actually help the body better absorb the drug, making it more effective.
The company ended up in Lawrence because its founder is Bala Subramaniam, a renowned KU researcher. The company continues to have some strong Lawrence ties. Longtime Lawrence entrepreneur Sam Campbell is the chairman of the company, and Matt McClorey, who led the efforts to get the Lawrence Bioscience and Technology Incubator off the ground, is Crititech’s president.
I did a longer article on the company in 2012 when it added McClorey and had signed a deal to put some of its technology into India. The company at that time was reaching a stage that has become dangerous to some Lawrence startups: They become successful enough that outside investors begin looking to buy the company and move it to one of the more traditional high-tech hubs on the coasts.
Campbell back then said he couldn’t make any promises, but that he was working to figure out ways to keep Crititech based in Lawrence for the long term. Keeping promising tech companies in Lawrence is a prime goal of local economic development leaders. These latest expansion plans seemingly provide some evidence that the company continues to have its needs met in Lawrence.
I’ll let you know if I get more details from the company.
In other news and notes:
• On Tuesday I reported on a plan by Lawrence Memorial Hospital to tear down six houses along Michigan Street to make way for an approximately 100-space parking lot. At the time I told you I was waiting to hear some more details from hospital officials. Well, I have heard from the hospital, and the hospital spokeswoman confirmed LMH has heard from quite a few members of the public.
Tearing down any house in Lawrence can become a controversial subject.
“We recognize it is a very sensitive issue,” spokeswoman Janice Early said.
But Early said the hospital is working hard to balance several issues. Among the points she expressed:
— The hospital has considered building a parking garage on site rather than expanding into the neighborhood with another surface parking lot. However, the numbers for a parking garage get big in a hurry. She estimated a surface parking lot costs about $4,000 per parking space, while a parking garage usually costs a minimum of $15,000 per space and often more.
Plus, the hospital is unsure that it really will need a parking garage in the future. New LMH President and CEO Russ Johnson has talked about the need for LMH’s geographic footprint to be more varied in Lawrence. That could mean some ambulatory services would be removed from the hospital’s main campus and relocated elsewhere in the community. That could cause a reduction in parking demand near the hospital.
— On the six houses that are slated to be demolished, Early said the hospital did study whether they could be made available to people who wanted to move them to another site. A consultant, however, recommended against such a strategy. The consultant determined they are not really in a movable condition. Some of the houses also would require significant improvements to meet current standards. For instance, some of the houses have asbestos siding, Early said. The hospital, however, will hire a firm to remove fixtures and other such items from the interior of the homes for recycling, she said.
— The plans submitted to City Hall showed several angled parking spaces would be added along Arkansas and Maine streets. Early said the hospital has decided not to move forward with building those new spaces. She said the new lot along Michigan Street is expected to be adequate to meet parking demand.
— Early said the new parking lot will include a substantial amount of landscaping, and the project will install a new sidewalk along much of the east side of Michigan Street, according to the plan.
— The parking shortage that the hospital faces can be severe at times, Early said. The hospital has expanded its free valet parking service for patients and visitors, but that doesn’t address staff parking issues.
“We definitely are spilling over in the neighborhood today,” she said. “Both staff and visitors are parking on residential streets in front of people’s property.”
Neighbors have noticed that. She said LMH has met with the Pinckney Neighborhood Association to discuss the parking lot proposal. She said the hospital heard supportive comments about the proposed parking lot because it would cut down on the amount of on-street parking that occurs in the neighborhood.
If the plans are approved — both the Planning Commission and the City Commission will have to consider them — the hospital hopes to have the lot completed by early fall.