UA System seeks $50M from state for genomics building

By Tyler Patchen – Health and Technology Reporter, Birmingham Business Journal (Link to original article)
Feb 13, 2020, 1:33pm EST

The University of Alabama System is looking to secure $50 million in state funding for the planned genomics facility at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
UA System Chancellor Finis St. John laid out the case for the project at the recent meeting of the UA System Board of Trustees, noting the potential benefits the facility could offer not just for Birmingham but for the entire state.

The new genomics science building would sit on Seventh Avenue South between 19th and 20th streets. It would involve a massive renovation of the Lyons Harrison Research Building.

The 140,000-square-foot project would cost an estimated $70 million.

The project is a major priority not just for UAB and the UA System but for the Birmingham business community, as many believe it would further elevate UAB’s status in the field of precision medicine, which could be a significant growth industry in the years to come.

St. John told the Birmingham Business Journal the project and its funding are high priorities.

“UAB has assembled a team of the very best people in the country that are on the cutting edge of genomic medicine. But the project that we are trying to help them conclude is the research and the lab space, to allow them the room to do this,” he said. “If that occurs, they can attract a bigger team and really be poised to be a national leader and a world leader in this (space). It would be a great benefit to the state because it would allow us to have another world-class facility at UAB to treat our citizens that very few other states have. So, we think it’s important enough to be our highest priority for the year.”

UAB officials have already made proposals to local governments, seeking additional funding for the project.

St. John said he is encouraged by support from many lawmakers.

“There are key members of the legislature who are supportive of this, including Senator (J.T.) Waggoner and Senator (Rodger) Smitherman from the Jefferson County area, and they are our allies in this pursuit,” he said. “We feel like it’s something that everybody in the state should support. Especially the leadership in Montgomery. Just because this is one of those projects that you can look back 10 or 20 years from now and view it the way we view the Mercedes project coming to Alabama or NASA coming to Alabama. It’s the kind of thing that will be a benefit for generations to come.”

St. John said the $50 million request from the state is a key component of the project. He said the project wouldn’t be dead without the state’s help, but it would send advocates back to the drawing board.

“It’s been a key part of the financial model that we’ve put in place. We’ve had good reception from state leaders in the legislature and the governor’s office, so we hope we don’t have to find out the answer to that,” he said.

Ultimately, St. John said the project could have a major impact on the state.

“(The genomics building) will also be potentially the single most important economic development project that the state could secure. The building will allow them to get close to 100 new researchers. The researchers bring big teams of people with them. They bring grants with them,” he said. “The business and entities end up working around something like this. Think about all the suppliers that supply Mercedes. This would have a similar ripple effect on the economy in Birmingham and the state. It’s kind of hard to overstate the importance and the potential.”