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Biotech in Burlingame

May 21st, 2014

Though some see it as a suburb of San Francisco, Burlingame has always had a commercial presence within its borders, dating all the way back to when Frances Newlands managed his father-in-law William Sharon’s dairy on land that later became the Burlingame Country Club. Burlingame’s Auto Row played a major role in the city’s growth before and after World War II and Small industry and warehouses have covered the city’s northeastern sector for decades.

Burlingame’s role as a business center waxes and wanes according to trends – and especially greater economic factors. The recent recession took a bite out of local business. A number of big local employers left town. Burlingame was unbowed. In 2010, at the height of the recession, Burlingame proposed its most ambitious commercial project to date: “Burlingame Point,” 767,000 square feet of office space aimed at attracting biotech and life sciences concerns, built on the 16-acre site of the old Burlingame Drive-In Theater (300 Airport Boulevard South). Millenium Partners, site developers, has presented its environmental impact report and is hoping to break ground soon.

The idea is to make Burlingame, which already has approximately 30 biotech firms within its city limits, a new “biotech hub,” taking its place alongside South San Francisco and San Francisco. In choosing the drive-in location, the city has – whether on purpose or not – set itself up to reproduce the waterfront feel of the Genentech campus in South City. Genentech is San Mateo County’s largest employer.

Millenium Partners has yet to find an anchor tenant (or two) for the project, which is adaptable to non-scientific businesses if needed and will include retail, shopping and direct access to Coyote Point and the Bay Trail. Once they do, Burlingame should brace itself for impact. A successful Burlingame Point could add significant pressure to an already tight local real estate market.

It’s a win-win for the city; 767,000 square feet of biotech would put Burlingame on the life sciences map. It would also bring a flood of business and property tax revenue into city coffers and its anchor(s) could eventually supplant Virgin America as the city’s biggest employer.

It’s Burlingame’s individual property owners who may ultimately profit the most, however.

Unless one or more of the new biotech clients is a company moving from San Francisco or South San Francisco (existing biotech hubs), we’re talking about significant business growth for Burlingame – and all the new residents that come with it. There will follow an influx of well educated, highly paid workers, all of whom will need places to live. The new Burlingame Point center will be a five-minute drive from Easton Addition. How about a great job… where you can come home for lunch, too?

Burlingame is already situated near two major job centers, San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Oracle, in Redwood Shores, is 10 minutes away; Facebook is 20 minutes away, as is San Francisco’s Financial District. It’s only 15 minutes to South San Francisco’s biotech hub, so there’s already a significant number of white-collar industry workers living in Burlingame. Adding almost a million square feet’s worth of well-paid workers will put an added strain on the local real estate market, which is good news for homeowners and (more) bad news for buyers. And you can expect these new businesses in Burlingame to affect not only the Burlingame real estate market but also the markets in Millbrae, San Mateo, Belmont, etc.

There is still the issue as to whether the project will be completed, but so far it’s on track. Burlingame Point isn’t the first project proposed for the former drive-in site. A 2000 plan fell victim to the recession. The present plan has completed its EIR and is currently doing site improvements and preparing to apply for its building permit with no signs of trouble. I guess, then, that leaves only one question for Burlingame, for its homeowners and for the heads of biotech companies considering Burlingame Point: if they build it, will they come?