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Groton — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Monday that his administration is getting closer to a deal with Pfizer Inc. to reuse the company's vacant laboratory space in Groton — and that the deal could help expand UConn's Avery Point campus.
"I think that with respect to the repositioning of Pfizer we are closing in. I am hopeful," the governor told The Day's editorial board.
After Malloy announced his $1.5 billion investment plan earlier this year, which included expanding science, technology, engineering and math disciplines at other University of Connecticut campuses, many in southeastern Connecticut wondered where Avery Point stood. Local entrepreneurs say they don't want Pfizer's old laboratories to go to waste and see the state's involvement as a way to help southeastern Connecticut's economy.
"There is a need for laboratory space in the area and some of those laboratories are in great shape and ideally suited for chemistry-based businesses and other startups," said Jean Schaefer, president of Artemis Startup Consulting based in Niantic. Chemistry, biology and bioscience companies might be interested in the space, she said, adding that some of the clients she has sent over to Pfizer have said the space is too large for them, she said. Schaefer said she has been hoping that Pfizer's laboratories could be used by businesses or Avery Point.
Town Economic Development Commission member George Mathanool said he would like to see various state entities, such as UConn, become equity owners of the Pfizer laboratories.
The laboratories could then attract pharmaceutical and biotech companies to the region, he said.
"We are gung-ho about what the governor is trying to do about it," he said. "He has a vision that works with us, but at the end of the day we need to get to the execution of it."
UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz directed all questions to Malloy's office.
Malloy said Avery Point wouldn't be a part of the $1.5 billion package but would be tied to a deal with Pfizer.
"I am a big supporter of Avery Point," Malloy said. "I think Avery Point's future is more tied to the reuse at the Pfizer site than it is to this other proposal," he said.
Calling Avery Point a relatively small facility, Malloy said, "It needs to enlarge its footprint to maximize its potential impact. We are spending inordinate amounts of time trying to re-purpose the Pfizer site, the portions that they are not going to use."
When Pfizer said it would tear down its 700,000-square-foot facility to avoid property taxes, the local community asked his administration for help, he said. Malloy said he has met with the head of Pfizer in New York and wants to meet with more Pfizer personnel.
"We need a resolution with respect to the repositioning of Pfizer property that will help us then move forward with a broader range of opportunities and investments at Avery Point," he said.
He said he wants scientists who have left Pfizer to have laboratory space. If scientists had this space, the students and faculty at Avery Point could interact and Avery Point could grow exponentially, he said.
The disciplines that might grow at Avery Point include marine science and niche bioscience, he said.
"Avery Point is not going to drive what Pfizer does or doesn't do, but it could work the other way around," he said.
Many local entrepreneurs will be visiting the Capitol today to testify in favor of House Bill 5460, which aims to create a plan for emerging bioscience and pharmaceutical businesses in southeastern Connecticut.
"We have the joy of having this facility here, and we are trying to create attention here," Mathanool said. "Let's harness this."
Pfizer could not be reached to comment.