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Novato 'Disappointed' BioMarin Expands to San Rafael

Novato facilities will focus on manufacturing while headquarters and research and development moves to San Rafael Corporate Center.

's announced move to San Rafael is an expansion and the company will still be a leading employer in the city of Novato, according to a company spokesperson. But that doesn't mean Novato officials aren't disappointed.

The Novato-based pharmaceutical company will be making the San Rafael Corporate Center on Lindaro Street its new headquarters, according to an article on San Rafael Patch. The company will occupy 120,383 square feet of office space in two separate buildings and are planning for 350 employees in the downtown location.

BioMarin had worked with city officials for months to try and pinpoint an appropriate location within the city limits for the expansion. No doubt having BioMarin based in Novato was worthy of some bragging rights, especially in pharmaceutical circles. For now, Novato will have to shine the spotlight on the at the and the up-and-coming performances by some smaller firms.

“The city of Novato was disappointed to hear that BioMarin could not find appropriate office space to expand within Novato," said Tom Adams, a senior management analyst with the city. "BioMarin has been a great member of our business community, and city staff worked hard to identify potential expansion sites within Novato. However, we believe that BioMarin’s presence in Novato will remain an integral part of the local economy and we look forward to working with them in the future. The biotechnology sector will continue to be an key sector for Novato. ... Novato’s overall economy remains relatively strong and Novato is a great place to live, work and start a business.”

Novato Mayor Denise Athas, a former president of the Downtown Novato Business Association, also used the word “disappointed” to describe the city’s mood, especially after extensive commercial real estate efforts were made to keep the company in town. But she said the city remains grateful for BioMarin’s role in the local economy.

“We are thrilled to continue to have their award winning business in our city,” she said, noting that BioMarin was the Novato Chamber of Commerce’s 2010 Large Business of the Year. “As a wake-up call, this gives us the opportunity to look at ways of increasing our biotech and biomed business and making way for them. I believe Novato needs to look at potential areas where companies like this can grow and/or expand to be prepared to assist them in this type of growth.”

The San Rafael move will bring the corporate center’s occupancy rate to approximately 85 percent. The new location also offers room for more growth when a third and final phase is completed, adding an additional 86,000-square-foot office space on Lincoln Avenue. BioMarin is holding an option to lease that last building, the building owner said in a Marin Independent Journal story.

Generally, BioMarin is characterizing the move as an expansion forced by company growth. The company has boomed from 250 employees in 2004 to more than 1,000 worldwide, including a newly acquired production plant in Ireland, according to company spokesperson Bob Purcell. 

While employees from research-and-development and headquarters staff will migrate to the San Rafael campus, those in manufacturing, labs, operations and warehousing will remain in Novato, according to a North Bay Business Journal article.

"Basically, we're going to have a huge presence in Novato," Purcell said. "Novato still has the biggest base of employees in the manufacturing side and lab." 

The company also completed a $60 million renovation of its manufacturing facility in Novato.

"We had a major expansion in 2010 and that facility was just approved in November by the FDA and EMA (European Medicines Agency), so we have a pretty long-term investment in Novato," Purcell said. "In our industry, you don't move plants once they been approved."

According to a BioMarin release, the Novato facilities will support up to $1 billion in revenue for BioMarin's growing enzyme replacement therapy portfolio. 

Purcell said the company plans to keep the 40,000 square feet of expansion offices at Wood Hollow Office Center on Novato's north side as it has a long-term lease. The plan is for employees in administrative functions to remain in that location.

For Novato, the news of the San Rafael lease still has some economic sting. In July, former Novato Redevelopment Agency director Ron Gerber as leading the growth of the biotech industry in Novato, along with Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical and Raptor Pharmaceutical. The optimistic comments were in response to the and other business losses in southern Novato that included from Hamilton and gourmet foods and bedding to Petaluma.

However, Purcell sees BioMarin's growth as reflective of the industry as a whole and said that other biotech companies in the Bel Marin Keys area have received approvals that may also lead to expansion.

"Industry growth is part of the reason we're outgrowing our space in Novato," Purcell said.

But for Novato it may be difficult to maintain a positive outlook when looking specifically at the commercial real estate vacancies in Bel Marin Keys. BioMarin has leases that are set to expire in 2013 on another 70,000 square feet of office space in Bel Marin Keys, and a decision on whether to renew those leases has not been made, according to Purcell.

BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc.'s stock [NASDAQ: BMRN] closed Wednesday at $36.03.

— Novato Patch's Brent Ainsworth contributed to this story.

david kurland January 21, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Welcome to San Rafael: home of the $450 red light rip-off camera. Other than that, it's a nice community.
Kevin Moore January 21, 2012 at 07:48 PM
So was San Rafael forward thinking or just lucky that BioMarin needed the space? The list of tenants looks rather pitiful in the photo. http://www.sanrafaelcorporatecenter.com/highlights.html

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