Former Red Lion will house biotech company, port announces

Portland-based AbSci has leased 6,200 square feet at Terminal 1; port has larger plans

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian Business Editor

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A portion of the former Red Lion hotel building on Vancouver’s Columbia River waterfront will be transformed into offices and wet labs for a Portland biotechnology company, under an agreement approved Monday by the Port of Vancouver’s Board of Commissioners, owner of the building at Terminal 1.

Port officials hope that AbSci’s lease of 6,200 square feet of former hotel space at 100 Columbia St. will provide a spark that could ignite a bioscience research hub at the port’s 10-acre Terminal 1 site, which extends west from the hotel property and adjoints the larger waterfront redevelopment project. Their ambition, backed by state, city, and local officials at a news conference Monday morning, is that an interim biotechnology center at the former hotel will leverage into construction of a new home for AbSci and other companies.

As an indicator of its grand vision for technology’s  growth potential, the port has given the former Red Lion Vancouver Hotel at the Quay a new name: the Columbia River Life Sciences Technology Building.

“This is a very coveted industry sector,” said Todd Coleman, the port’s CEO. “We are going to rejuvenate and revitalize this facility, and this is one of the first steps.”   

At the center of it all is AbSci. The company has developed a protein manufacturing platform that substantially reduces the production costs of therapeutic proteins and antibodies used in a wide range of medical treatment, including those for cancer, and hormone therapies, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders.

Launched in 2011, AbSci  first operated a research and development lab at Portland State University’s business accelerator. It moved in 2013 to the Oregon Translational Research and Development Institute’s bioscience incubator in Portland’s south waterfront district.

The company was outgrowing that site when Katy Brooks, the port’s director of economic development, visited last summer and was struck by the similarities between the company’s research lab and a standard hotel room. Knowing that the Red Lion’s lease was set to expire by the end of this year, she and others began thinking about the possibilities of an entirely unexpected reuse for the aging hotel.

Port officials said there is a shortage of wet lab research facilities in the metro area and on the West Coast. It’s less expensive to convert a hotel into a lab, because extensive plumbing and ventilation equipment are already built in.

Sean McClain, AbSci’s CEO and founder, bought into the port’s proposal. The company now has just 10 employees but expects to double that number by next year and grow to 50 employees by 2020.

“This is a big step for biotech in the region,” McClain told the port commissioners. “It’s important to us and our growth, and to the growth of bioscience in Washington and Oregon.”

Under the deal, the port will remove asbestos and other hazards on the upper floor of the former hotel’s south wing, where AbSci’s facilities will be located. The port will invest up to $340,000 in shared equipment, including a backup generator, for AbSci and other companies that may relocate in the building.

The port said it will incur additional costs for security, utilities and cleaning. It expects revenue of $415,665 over the 38-month contract period.

AbSci will occupy 3,000 square feet of office space and 2,600 square feet of laboratory space. The remaining 600 square feet of leased space is designated as shared space that could also be used by future tenants.

Brooks said the port has begun an assessment of the former hotel building and will continue to look for tenants who can bring public uses to the building’s first-floor common areas, which include a former restaurant, lounge and banquet rooms with Columbia River views.