​Site selected for $110 million NIOSH lab in Cincinnati

The federal government has selected a site near the University of Cincinnati to build a $110 million research laboratory that will be operated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

On Thursday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the parent organization of NIOSH, identified a parcel at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Reading Road as the preferred site for the the massive research center. It would employ about 550 people who now work at two separate but aging NIOSH laboratories in Greater Cincinnati.

“We are thrilled to learn that NIOSH chose to locate their new research facility in the Uptown Innovation Corridor,” said Beth Robinson, CEO of the Uptown Consortium. “For years, we’ve known the value of the MLK and Reading site to the investigative sciences.”

“The walking proximity to advanced medical and technical research labs within the UC Research Institute and the UC Colleges of Medicine, Engineering, Pharmacy, the environmental sciences programs, Cincinnati Children’s, UC Health and TriHealth, is a huge advantage of the Uptown location,” Robinson said. “The Uptown anchor institution’s commitment to healthcare and education makes this a perfect fit in the region’s premier research and innovation hub.”

NIOSH, which recommends ways to prevent injuries, illnesses and deaths related to work, previously indicated the agency would likely require about 14 acres to consolidate the Robert A. Taft Laboratory on Columbia Parkway in the East End and the Alice Hamilton Laboratory on Ridge Road in Pleasant Ridge.

“Consolidation at the Cincinnati NIOSH facility will spur investment, strengthen local research that helps keep workers safe, and make Cincinnati a national leader in innovation,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat. “This project is important not only to Southwest Ohio, but also to workers across the country. I’m pleased to see continued progress, and my office stands ready to support the project as it moves forward.”

The spot selected for a new lab is close to the UC College of Medicine, the UC Medical Center, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and a local Environmental Protection Agency facility.

Years ago a location in Clermont County had been named as the preferred site, but the Uptown Consortium had lobbied to have the facility built near UC.

The Uptown Consortium, a nonprofit that includes some of the largest hospital systems in Greater Cincinnati, argued it makes sense to have a consolidated NIOSH facility located in that neighborhood.

I previously reported that the Uptown Consortium was buying property to shape development of the Martin Luther King Drive/Reading Road Corridor, and that the group was trying to find room for the federal government to build the NIOSH headquarters.

“The entire community is supportive of the project, which will ensure NIOSH remains an integral part of the city’s growing health care sector while bringing additional jobs to the community,” said Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican who lives in Terrace Park. “I look forward to continuing to work with local stakeholders, including leadership from the city, NIOSH workforce, and the local building trades to ensure this project’s success.”

Both of the current NIOSH labs opened in 1954 and are considered antiquated.

The U.S. General Services Administration began looking for land on which to bring together the two NIOSH labs back in 2006, but the estimated cost at the time of $70 million for a 350,000-square-foot building that could accommodate hundreds of employees proved to be a problem after the economy tanked during the Great Recession.

A site on Summit Drive in Clermont County’s Miami Township was identified as the top contender by the federal government in 2007, before the plan got shelved. If the labs were to be moved outside Cincinnati, the city could lose more than $1 million in income taxes annually, federal officials estimated at that time.

The Uptown Consortium has been buying property to shape development of the Martin Luther King Drive/Reading Road Corridor.

Ongoing construction of the Martin Luther King Drive interchange with Interstate 71 will make the area more accessible and therefore more attractive to NIOSH.

Dr. Rick Lofgren, who is CEO of UC Health and a member of the board of directors of the Uptown Consortium, previously told me that a NIOSH facility “would really complement what’s already going on at the campus” of the University of Cincinnati.

The Uptown Consortium owns 55 percent of the land, while UC Health owns the remaining 45 percent. The parcel includes vacant land, a parking lot and one commercial building that has a short-term lease to a UC group.

Design and construction of the new NIOSH campus is to begin in summer 2018, and the project is scheduled to be completed by early 2021.

The site is less than a half mile from the UC College of Medicine and the Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

The location will “expand opportunities for collaboration and partnership with the Cincinnati research community,” said Dr. John Howard, director of NIOSH.

Original article posted on July 13, 2017 by the Cincinnati Business Courier.