AbCellera’s new headquarters office approved by Vancouver City Council
Kenneth Chan, (DAILY HIVE VANCOUVER) — A city block-sized redevelopment in the core of the Mount Pleasant Industrial Area (MPIA) is set to become AbCellera’s new global headquarters office, and research and development hub.
Vancouver City Council unanimously approved the rezoning applications for the new biotech research campus, with the east building located at 110 West 4th Avenue and the separate west building at 150 West 4th Avenue — between Manitoba and Columbia streets.
The nine-storey east building — replacing existing low-storey structures with A&B Party Event Rentals — will encompass 212,000 sq ft of total floor area, with 70% of the space outfitted as state-of-the-art flexible laboratory uses, and 30% as office and support spaces.
Meanwhile, the west building is already under construction, but city council’s approval allows for the mid-construction addition of two more floors — increasing the height to seven storeys, and growing the total floor area from 128,000 sq ft to 169,000 sq ft of office and research uses. A restaurant is also included in the ground level of the west building.
Both buildings combined will provide AbCellera with a total floor area of about 380,000 sq ft, with a floor area ratio (FAR) density of 7.0 for the east building and a FAR of 4.0 for the west building.
Murray McCutcheon, the vice-president of corporate development for AbCellera, told city council the campus provides critical space that allows the company to conduct its work on antibody therapeutics, and remain in its hometown.
Last year, the company gained global attention and recognition for its rapid development and production of bamlanivimab, which has been used on an emergency basis for treating symptomatic individuals with COVID-19. The US government ordered another 600,000 doses of the drug in early November 2021, and the company is now developing the next generation therapeutics to combat COVID-19’s transition into an endemic disease.
Additionally, AbCellera is also developing over 150 therapeutic treatments, including therapies to treat cancer, autoimmune conditions, pain, and neurodegeneration.
“This work is highly specialized and requires the creation of new lab space that currently does not exist n Vancouver. We considered a number of cities for our global headquarters,” said McCutcheon.
“Despite not having the lab space we need, we chose Vancouver to build and grow the company. Biotech promises to be a transformative industry over the coming decades with life-changing impacts on the lives of patients and a sustainable fast-growing pillar of the economy.”
Given the importance of AbCellera’s work and economic potential for Vancouver, city staff and city council fast-tracked the review process for the rezoning application, which was submitted early in 2021.
The location of the campus is strategically situated within very close proximity to AbCellera’s existing facilities in the immediate area within the MPIA, including its first office in a 21,000 sq ft space at 2215 Yukon Street, and a 44,000 sq ft office that recently reached completion at 2131 Manitoba Street.
The central location, within short walking distance of other businesses, services, amenities, and three SkyTrain stations (Olympic Village, Broadway-City Hall, and the future Mount Pleasant stations), also provides the company with the better ability to attract and retain top talent.
The new two-building campus provides AbCellera with ample room to grow, potentially adding as many as 1,000 employees by 2028. The company was founded in 2012 at the University of British Columbia, and it has since grown to a workforce size of 350 people. McCutcheon says AbCellera has added 200 people to its workforce in the past year alone.
“We urgently require space to accommodate our growing teams and continue developing these life-saving therapies. Vancouver has the potential now to be a thriving biotech hub. AbCellera is positioned to play a leading role locally and globally, but without lab space this work cannot and will not happen here in Vancouver,” said McCutcheon.
“With this campus, we’ve committed to investing in Vancouver in the long term and creating an anchor company that will treat illness and save lives, both here at home and around the world.”
AbCellera’s uses for the properties align with MPIA’s protected industrial uses, and the city’s Employment Lands and Economy Review, which calls for the intensification of employment in areas such as the MPIA.
Although all councillors voted in support of the rezoning applications, several councillors had some concerns over how the project could negatively impact the area.
Green Party councillor Michael Wiebe said he wanted to see some design changes performed to reduce the impact the taller east building would have on the mountain views from Jonathan Rodgers Park, which is located three blocks to the south. The current design entails a rooftop screen to block views of the critical laboratory mechanical equipment placed on the building’s roof.
Concerns were also repeatedly raised by COPE councillor Jean Swanson on the potential impact the project could have by increasing the rents of nearby buildings, specifically those occupied by already-struggling arts organizations, as a result of increased property values. She added that she wished AbCellera were a non-profit entity.
TEAM councillor Colleen Hardwick also spoke on the possibility of a gentrification impact, and the displacement of the area’s traditional industrial uses.
On the other hand, NPA councillor Melissa De Genova suggested AbCellera could attract other biotech companies to the city, in the same way Hootsuite had an early role in developing Vancouver’s tech ecosystem.
“It’s also very important to note that aside from the very good innovative, cutting edge technology and work that AbCellera is moving forward with that has put them on the world stage, this also offers an opportunity for us to attract more biotech companies to Vancouver to create more jobs and to look at more opportunities,” said De Genova.
Independent councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung added: “One of the challenges that we have in the city is that it’s increasingly expensive to live in. We have the highest cost of housing, but we do not have the wages that accompany that, and these are good quality paying jobs in terms of providing quality living for people that they can not just survive but hopefully thrive in this city.”
Kirby-Yung also highlighted the role Vancouver can play to help ensure Canada has domestic facilities for vaccine and treatment production, given the country’s earlier national security challenges with securing a timely supply of COVID-19 vaccines.
It should be noted that the campus is necessary to support AbCellera’s planned 130,000 sq ft Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) facility, located at 900 Evans Avenue in the False Creek Flats, for the production of therapeutic antibody treatments. This separate first-of-a-kind manufacturing facility in Canada, employing 300 people upon opening, has already received $175 million in committed funding from the federal government.
AbCellera’s Mount Pleasant campus will reach completion in two phases in 2023 and 2024, and the GMP facility will also be ready by 2024.
The east building of the AbCellera campus is being pursued as a partnership with local developer Beedie, while the west building is a partnership with Dayhu Group, Lark Group, and ICT Group. AbCellera is involved in both buildings in the capacities of co-owner and long-term tenant.
The east building is designed by Francl Architecture, and the west building by Taylor Kurtz Architecture & Design.
Underground levels in both buildings will provide a combined total supply of 494 vehicle parking stalls and 194 bike parking spaces.
In exchange for the added density for both buildings, AbCellera and its development partners will provide the City of Vancouver with a combined total of $8.4 million in public benefits, including $1.7 million in community amenity contributions, $6.5 million in development cost levies, and $750,000 in public art.
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