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Sudden shift — Exact Sciences no longer moving downtown

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The dream of a bustling new downtown headquarters for Madison biotech Exact Sciences Corp. is dead, but Exact’s plans for a new facility are still alive and well.

In a surprise announcement Monday, Exact Sciences Chairman and CEO Kevin Conroy, flanked by Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and University Research Park Managing Director Aaron Olver, said the company is withdrawing its plans to build at the Judge Doyle Square site and will instead expand at University Research Park on the city’s west side.

Established in 1984, University Research Park is an internationally recognized research and technology park that supports early-stage and growth-oriented businesses in a range of sectors, including engineering, computer, and life sciences. The park is home to more than 125 companies employing more than 3,800 workers.

While Conroy noted the opportunity to locate downtown was appealing, consolidating its operations at University Research Park, where it already has three buildings, was “a prudent decision for our company and our community.”

Since the Exact Sciences proposal for Judge Doyle Square first received preliminary approval from city leaders in July, it’s been beset by criticism. First, opponents said the city was moving too fast in approving the Exact Sciences headquarters plans from JDS Development in an effort to meet an aggressive deadline set by Exact and JDS to begin the project.

Then, critics questioned the long-term viability of Exact Sciences. Those fears appeared to become reality on Oct. 6 when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) did not classify Cologuard, the company’s non-invasive test for colorectal cancer, as one of the main recommended screening tests. Instead, the task force named Cologuard as an alternative test that’s useful in select clinical circumstances as it issued a draft report updating its guidelines for colorectal cancer screening.

At the time, Conroy defended Exact’s flagship product and said the company was resolute in its plans to still build downtown. However, amid increasing pressure, including from Soglin — an early champion of the project — Exact appears to have reversed course.

“While it would have been a game-changing addition to the downtown landscape, ultimately we should all be excited that an innovative company, like Exact Sciences, is able to scale their operations here in greater Madison and at one of the world’s leading research parks,” Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, told IB.

“It was a disappointment to hear they weren’t going to be a part of the Judge Doyle Square project, but these things happen,” Susan Schmitz, president of Downtown Madison Inc. added. “Sometimes these things are just out of our control.

“The good news is the process that took place to get the approval at the council level was probably the best process I’ve seen since I came to DMI for a large project,” Schmitz said. “It was open, it was very thoughtful, people were trying to make things work, people asked good questions, and people wanted to understand because it was a very complex project proposal. I think we’ll get some really good new proposals, but we’ve already had a lot of the really tough questions answered, especially having to do with the financial aspects of a project like this.”

The original JDS Development proposal for Judge Doyle Square was for a $186.4 million to $203.2 million development that would provide 357,000 square feet of space for a new Exact Sciences headquarters that could have brought as many as 600 employees to the downtown area. It also included as many as 250 hotel rooms, plus restaurant and retail, but no housing. Other elements would have included a food hall, wellness center, conference center, broadcast/digital media center, and up to 1,540 parking spaces. Public funding was expected to cover about a third of the project’s cost.

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