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By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology has won a $1.6 million commitment from a nonprofit foundation toward developing the open-space "grove" or pedestrian pathway planned along the center of the institute’s Huntsville, Ala., campus — where a third building is close to breaking ground, and a fourth building is in planning stages.

H. O’Neal Smitherman, HudsonAlpha’s executive vice president, told GenomeWeb Daily News the grove will emerge over the next few months and is intended to unify, as well as enhance, the environment around present and future buildings planned by the institute for the 150-acre biotechnology campus within the Cummings Research Park.

The campus is now home to the Jackson Conference Center, which includes 13,000 square feet of meeting space; as well as the 270,000-square-foot building now fully occupied by HudsonAlpha and 13 tenant life sciences businesses.

Both the institute and the tenants are growing and need more space, Smitherman said, while HudsonAlpha is in talks with additional prospective life-sci tenants seeking a presence in the research park. As a result of both, HudsonAlpha has spent recent months on plans for additional space.

"We have good hopes that there will be an announcement in the very near future of a third building, and we even have in at least the planning stage a fourth building down the way," Smitherman said. "We’re hopeful to make an announcement soon."

He would not disclose who will occupy the third building, but did add the institute was studying several development scenarios: "We think that maybe the next building would be somewhat smaller" than the institute’s current building, "in the 20,000 to 30,000-square-feet range. But we’re not certain about that. And then there may be another building of that size or slightly larger somewhere not too far down the way," said Smitherman.

He spoke to GWDN on Dec. 4, two days after HudsonAlpha announced it had received the $1.6 million donation for the grove from the Alpha Foundation Inc., a Madison, Ala., nonprofit that donates to educational, scientific, and charitable organizations.

"We expect that the initial donation will pay for the capital costs for the grove. The maintenance, then, will be built into any new buildings that are built on campus, and any new renters that are on campus," Smitherman said.

He said the institute plans to leverage the donation with additional gifts toward the grove project: "Our expectation is that the excitement that is generated by having the grove in place will be part of what we build around in our discussions with other private donors."

"It’s a footprint around which we’ll begin to build the other buildings. It’s not absolutely a prerequisite [to future development], but we wanted to go ahead and show the level of growth that we anticipate, and then also make it more attractive for those others that we might be recruiting into this area," Smitherman said. "We hope to have the main portion of the grove finished in the spring of this coming year. We’re planning to move very quickly on that."

The president of the Alpha Foundation is Lonnie McMillian, who is also co-chairman of HudsonAlpha’s board of directors.

The foundation is an ongoing benefactor of capital projects and research at HudsonAlpha, which received the foundation’s largest single shares of grant money last year and the year before. According to its Form 990 tax returns, the institute won $375,000 of the $1.7 million awarded by the foundation in 2008, and $810,000 of the nearly $2.2 million awarded in 2007.