Exact Sciences: Timing factor in play for downtown move

The vibrancy of downtown Madison is a key reason why Kevin Conroy would like to bring hundreds of Exact Sciences employees there and anchor a proposed mixed-use development on the Judge Doyle Square site, but there is a timing factor that could compel the molecular diagnostics company to move outside of the city limits.

Conroy, chairman and CEO of Exact Sciences, says locating downtown would be attractive to most of his employees and better enable the company to attract top talent as it continues to expand. However, the city would need to approve the proposal, which is one of four submitted for Judge Doyle Square, before the end of 2015.

While the development plan, submitted by Hammes Co. and California-based Majestic Realty, heightens Exact Sciences’ desire to relocate to downtown, its need for a collaborative work environment means that time is of the essence.

“The challenge with downtown is we need to start the building project by the end of this year so that we can be in the new building by July of 2017,” Conroy explained. “We soon will be in three different buildings, with the R&D team in one, the manufacturing team in another, and everybody else in a third. So for sales and marketing, finance, and planning, it’s imperative that we get all of those teams working together in a collaborative way in one physical location.

“If the downtown site takes a long time, then we would likely end up either outside the city or possibly in University Research Park.”

In addition to a site in University Research Park, Exact Sciences is looking at a site in Fitchburg and a site in the Town of Madison, where it already has a clinical testing lab that handles patient samples. The company has developed Cologuard, a non-invasive test for the early detection of colon cancer that has received Food and Drug Administration approval. The introduction of Cologuard to the market is driving the company’s rapid workforce growth, hence the need relocate from its current headquarters on Charmany Drive to a larger facility.

No matter where its headquarters is located, Conroy said the company would continue to operate the testing lab in the Town of Madison.

Exact Sciences has been offered up to $9 million in state tax credits by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to expand in Wisconsin. A move downtown would not only provide a vibrant place for Exact Sciences employees to work, it would bring hundreds of good-paying jobs and workers to downtown merchants and restaurants, increase the city’s tax base as part of the Judge Doyle Square redevelopment, and add momentum to the city’s efforts to build a technology hub in the central part of town.

The $125 million Hammes Co.-Majestic Realty plan is among four development proposals submitted after city officials asked developers to go back to the drawing board on the massive Judge Doyle Square project. The 1 million-square-foot project would provide 250,000 square feet of space for a new Exact Sciences headquarters.

Other key components are: a 250-room hotel designed to improve the competitive position of Monona Terrace in attracting large events; a multi-purpose conference center to support Exact Sciences offices, the hotel, and Monona Terrace; a public food hall and indoor market to showcase local food vendors; a broadcast/digital media center; restaurant and retail space; entertainment establishments; health and wellness facilities; and terraced gathering areas on Pinckney Street.

The project, which would not include housing, would add up to 1,540 parking spaces to the downtown. The public portion of the cost would range from $55.6 million to $65.5 million for the parking and other public features, and the project does not include any direct tax incremental financing (TIF) support for any private component of the project.

In Conroy’s view, one thing that distinguishes the Hammes-Majestic proposal is city ownership of the parking infrastructure and the ability to derive long-term economic value from it. “We are not asking for TIF money for our part of the project,” he added. “If it were to be used, it would be used for assets the city would own.”

For Hammes Co., the development represents another opportunity to develop a property that brings year-round economic activation. The most recent example is the renovation of the Edgewater Hotel. “What is important to understand about our proposal is this public-private partnership is designed to complement Monona Terrace in a way that we can compete more effectively as a destination community,” Bob Dunn, president of the Hammes Co., said in a press release.

Conroy noted that part of the appeal is the Hammes Co.’s reputation for building projects that serve as year-round economic drivers. “Bob Dunn and I share a vision for economic growth in Madison,” Conroy said. “We both feel passionately that for Madison to continue to provide the infrastructure of downtown, there needs to be a greater investment downtown. This Exact Sciences plan represents an opportunity to accelerate the economic growth of the city.”

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