Richmond puts best foot forward to wow lab

It’s rare that a project can seemingly unite every sector across a city, but Richmond’s bid for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory expansion brought out 700 people from all corners of the city to show support Thursday for the campus, as the city put its best foot forward to showcase what it has to offer the lab.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a massive research institute that focuses on advanced scientific research in a variety of fields, has outgrown its Berkeley campus and is in the market for a location for a second campus that would consolidate their existing research projects around the Bay Area and give the organization space to grow. The new lab is expected to generate over $200 million in economic activity, including numerous jobs involved in building the site as well as new restaurants, cafes and other businesses that will be patronized by the expected 800 workers. Richmond’s bid would site the campus at UC Berkeley’s Richmond Field Station between the Richmond Annex and Marina Bay neighborhoods.

At the packed town-hall meeting, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and a host of public speakers that included members of the business community, public safety officers, elected officials, non-profit leaders and a host of citizens extolled Richmond’s virtues. They promoted the city’s expansive coastline and other natural amenities, Richmond’s budding green-technology sector, its proximity to the lab’s existing campus, and told lab officials that the city has a well-run and helpful local government and a growing reputation as a city that welcomes new businesses.

“Richmond is in the middle of a renaissance, and I’d like to invite you to join us,” City Manager Bill Lindsay told lab director Paul Alivisatos and Chief Operating Officer Jim Krupnick.  In cataloguing what the city has to offer the LBNL workers, he mentioned that the city made a point in its recent general plan to zone the area around the Richmond Field Station to ease the process of development.

UC Berkeley is partnering with Richmond in the bid and the city and the university are promoting this as another selling point.  “Only one of the competing sites has UC Berkeley as a partner,” UC Berkeley Vice Provost Catherine Koshland said in her presentation Thursday.

UC Berkeley selected San Francisco-based SKS Investments as the developer for the site.  Dan Kingsley, SKS managing partner, said the site has ample land for the lab’s 2 million square foot campus that is ready for development. He stressed that the designs for the second campus site at the Richmond Field Station would go “above and beyond existing LEED certification,” the national standard for green building design, and feature natural open space throughout the campus including a green promenade and views of the bay.

LBNL Director Paul Alivisatos presented the lab’s achievements and research focus to the crowd, pointing out that 55 Nobel Prizes and 13 National Medal of Science winners had connections with the lab.  He said most of the work at the lab’s second campus will focus on biosciences, but in the long term the lab wants to have the space to build ot facilities to meet as yet unknown needs.  “At any given time we have a group of people trying to think what will the facilities be five, ten, fifteen years from now that scientists will need to have access to the tools that are most needed for their research,” Alavisatos said.

Alavisatos said he was impressed by the display of all that Richmond had to offer. The city’s reception included a West African drum and dance performance from the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, treats from Galaxy Desserts, and about forty informational booths representing groups from all sectors of Richmond society showing support for the lab.  The city has also started an “Richmond Loves LBNL” button campaign; the blue and yellow buttons could be seen on most of the crowd.  Banners hung from light poles around the city welcomed the lab, and the city has also spring for a billboard to show love for the lab.

Councilmember Jeff Ritterman, the city council’s key person on the lab bid, called the night a success, and said it was just the beginning of a campaign to build buzz in the city for the project and envision a future that includes LBNL.  “We need to be positioning ourselves so that if we get it, how are we going to benefit the most, how are we going to interface that with our education system, how are the kids here going to be educated so they get those jobs,” he said.

Five other cities are competing to host the LBNL expansion, including sites in Alameda, Berkeley, Albany, Oakland and Emeryville.  The lab will announce the winner of the contract in November.

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