A national firm is placing a big bet on agricultural technology in the Triangle

A rendering of the future Alexandria Center for AgTech-RTP.
A rendering of the future Alexandria Center for AgTech-RTP. Courtesy of Alexandria Real Estate Equities

Real estate giant Alexandria Real Estate Equities has expanded its bet on the region’s vibrant agricultural technology sector by acquiring a former Syngenta site to launch a new agtech center in Research Triangle Park.

The new Alexandria Center for AgTech-RTP unveiled Wednesday is the first site of its kind aimed at multiple tenants in the agtech space, said Joel Marcus, founder and CEO of California-based Alexandria.

“We’re not looking to lease it to one tenant,” Marcus said.

An affiliate of Alexandria recently acquired the former Syngenta site at 3054 East Cornwallis Road, five interconnected buildings and the 20 acres surrounding them, for $8.75 million, according to Durham County property records.

“We have additional capability to build there,” Marcus said.

Marcus is looking for the Center for AgTech to mirror the success that his company has enjoyed with its centers elsewhere. They include the Alexandria Center for Life Science in New York, which was established a decade ago and today boasts 3,000 employees working at multiple life science companies occupying nearly 1 million square feet of space.

“Our hope is that we can jump-start and make our (agtech center) really the heart and soul of probably the strongest and fastest-growing industry in the Triangle,” Marcus said.

AgTech companies such as Syngenta, Bayer and BASF are major Triangle employers, and in recent years a flurry of agtech start-ups also have sprouted up in the region.

The former Syngenta site acquired by Alexandria had 190,000 square feet of space, but Alexandria has eliminated some of the space “that was not very useful,” leaving it with 175,000 square feet of rentable space, Marcus said. Most important, in addition to containing offices and laboratories, more than 20 percent is greenhouse space – which is in short supply not only in RTP but across the country.

The site became expendable to Syngenta after it moved into a new building, the Syngenta RTP Innovation Center at 9 Davis Drive, that enabled it to consolidate all of its employees under one roof, said Syngenta spokesman Chris Tutino. Syngenta has about 500 employees and contract workers in RTP.

Alexandria’s new agtech center comes on top of its sweeping plans for a 56-acre RTP site – almost adjacent to the Cornwallis Drive property – that it acquired in 2015 with plans to transform it into a campus for life science and technology companies with more than 1 million square feet of space. Today the Alexandria Center for Science, Technology and Agriculture has about 30 tenants in a building formerly occupied by the Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences.

Alexandria also has addressed the dearth of local venture capital in the region by spearheading last year’s formation of the AgTech Accelerator, which provides funding, incubator space and management expertise to fledgling agtech companies.

Marcus said the AgTech Accelerator and Boragen, a fledgling fungicide company that moved to the Triangle this year after receiving $10 million in funding from the accelerator and its investors, already have moved into the former Syngenta site.

“We’ve got a nice waiting list ready to go,” he added. “I think you’ll see over the next six to 12 months, we’ll probably (have) a couple dozen companies in there.”

Alexandria’s long-term plans for the AgTech center include conference and event space, a fitness center, restaurant and open green space. That dovetails, said Marcus, with the vision of the nonprofit that runs RTP, the Research Triangle Foundation, to provide housing and amenities at the park in order to make it more appealing to businesses.

Alexandria entered the Triangle market in 1998 and today has more than 1 million square feet of space that is nearly 98 percent leased. Its tenants include Bayer, Medicago, Monsanto and Novozymes.

David Ranii: 919-829-4877, @dranii