State -of-the-Art Redevelopment
Something about the development agreement between Chiron Corporation and the City of Emeryville reminds me of the relationship between Paul Newman and George C. Scott in "The Hustler." In that movie, you recall, Newman was the young and talented pool shark, while Scott was the older, calculating gambler who backed up the bets of people like Newman, in hope of taking a considerable cut if he won.
The movie is perhaps not the best analogy. There is nothing dark or underworldly, for example, in the relationship between Chiron Corporation and Emeryville, as there was between Newman and Scott. At the same time, there are parallels: Here, Chiron is in the Paul Newman role, as the rising young star with big earnings potential. The redevelopment agency, in the George C. Scott role, has agreed to reimburse Chiron some of the most expensive and uncertain costs associated with building the corporate headquarters in the city, most notably the remediation of contaminated soil under the project, which alone could cost $30 million.
Not every city would be willing to take on that kind of risk exposure on a toxic clean-up job. Emeryville, however, has some compelling reasons to take the plunge. The Chiron headquarters is the kind of deal that city officials daydream about, if rarely achieve: a heavy industrial site, badly contaminated with the industries of previous generations, has been cleaned up and transformed into a stylish campus of a biotech firm with annual sales of $1 billion and growing. Where a Sherwin Williams paint factory, a former Pacific Gas & Electric storage yard and a Shell Oil petrochemical plant all formerly operated, elegant new buildings, designed by renowned Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta, are rising. In the coming decades, up to 4,200 highly skilled workers will walk serenely through the courtyards and parks that will connect the ochre towers and yellow arcades of the Chiron Life Sciences Center.
Besides the city's incentives, certain factors make the site attractive to Chiron. Large-scale sites suitable for corporate campuses are rare in the Bay Area, particularly in urban centers. And while the site is generally more expensive than sites in the suburban South Bay, Emeryville has the plus of being only a mile or so from a major research university. Further, Chiron is already entrenched on the site, occupying 750,000 square feet of new and existing buildings.
Adding to a plan devised for the city by Keyser Marston Associates, the city would assist Chiron with "extraordinary" (that is, above-market) costs, including toxic remediation, off-site traffic improvements, mitigation requirements, off-site public utility improvements and demolition of existing structures on the site. In addition, the city would pay Chiron's annual municipal service fee for the property and provide up to $4.7 million for a future parking structure.
The rationale for these reimbursements is that Emeryville is a comparatively costly place in which to build, and reimbursements from the redevelopment agency help keep the city competitive. According to Keyser Marston, developing in Emeryville could cost $47 to $67 per square foot, including the cost of land, mitigating EIR requirements and providing new roads and utilities. Those pre-construction costs add up to $22 million. This does not include the potential expense of remediation costs, which could run from $10 million to $30 million. Land-related costs on suburban sites, in contrast, run from $15 to $28 per square foot.
Chiron has its own reasons for staying in Emeryville. In 1981, the company was founded by two former UC Berkeley professors in the East Bay city, which is close to the campus but was then a gritty pocket of industry. The company's current employees live in the area. And Emeryville's close proximity to UC Berkeley means that the company is close to a major research institution that can supply many of its future hires.
The city's hope of gain depends largely on Chiron's agreement to stay put and grow. Eventually, the company wants to build 14 separate buildings on the campus, encompassing 2.2 million square feet, where 4,500 people may eventually work. The buildings are expected to generate $300 million in property taxes during the next 30 years. Earlier this year, the company completed construction on the first, 290,000-square-foot building of the $1 billion Chiron Life Sciences Center. The city has spent about $2 million in remediation costs on the former PG&E site.
Patrick O'Keefe, director of the city's redevelopment agency, downplayed the significance of the Chiron deal as an innovation in the redevelopment of brownfield sites. Typically, he said, cities clean up old industrial sites first, and then afterwards look for a developer, who then looks for a tenant. In Emeryville's case, the city streamlined the process, by lining up a developer in the first place, (in this case, Chiron) and promising to reimburse the developer above an agreed upon amount.
Can other cities follow Emeryville's lead? That's hard to say. Emeryville is the beneficiary of a unique set of forces, according to Walt Kieser, principal of Economic and Planning Systems, a Berkeley-based economic consultant. "The city has been blessed by geography and circumstance," he said. Emeryville, he explained, has a very large commercial base and a very small residential population-meaning that the small city is comparatively affluent and has the deep pockets to provide incentives to desirable tenants like Chiron.
Further, Emeryville is in the sphere of the extraordinary, technology-oriented building boom centered on Silicon Valley. The city has been among the most aggressive in attracting new high-tech tenants to its former heavy industry sites, including Sybase and a number of major retailers. Kieser credits Emeryville for a number of creative deals that have turned brownfields into fields of gold. Still, "it's easy to be creative when you have a lot of money," Kieser said.
Perhaps not many cities have the resources or the nerve to redevelop brownfield sites in the manner of Emeryville. Still, my gut sense is that the city has advanced the science of redeveloping contaminated industrial sites. Instead of waiting for a developer, the city acts like a developer, and cuts a deal that makes a brownfield site as safe to tenants, at least financially, as a virgin site in the suburbs. If you believe that the recycling of industrial areas is important, then Emeryville should be applauded for inventing or refining some techniques for a difficult job. We felt bad when George C. Scott made money on Paul Newman's victory over Minnesota Fats; we felt he was a parasite who didn't deserve the money. But if Emeryville makes a buck or two off the Chiron site, it's been a worthwhile gamble.