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Leaders envision turning Brookhaven Lab into a Silicon Valley

Brookhaven National Laboratory spans about 5,300 acres in

Brookhaven National Laboratory spans about 5,300 acres in Upton. Credit: Brookhaven National Lab

Plans for a Long Island version of Silicon Valley took a step forward as Brookhaven National Laboratory officials announced plans for a private economic development hub that would link entrepreneurs with researchers at the federal science facility.

Officials speaking at a daylong kickoff event Thursday said the project, dubbed Discovery Park, would carve out about 40 to 60 acres at the Upton lab's 5,321-acre campus for a commercial research hub with conference centers, housing for visitors and other facilities. Plans call for the construction of 600,000 square feet of buildings, which would be leased by users.

Laboratory officials described the project as a "transformational" effort to enhance the role of Brookhaven's high-tech research in the development of everything from medicines to cellphone batteries.

"Discovery Park is a centerpiece and catalyst for our laboratory of the future," lab director Doon Gibbs said to a gathering of public officials and business executives. "Discovery Park creates a gateway to Brookhaven that addresses several urgent needs." BNL said about 30 people attended the event in person and about 35 remotely.

Long Island officials for years have called for development of a tech corridor that would link local research institutions in an effort to compete with California's Silicon Valley.

Construction of the Brookhaven hub is years away. BNL officials said a user support center, one of several buildings planned for the complex, should be opened in about three years and will cost about $86 million.

Thursday's event was an invitation to developers — including building contractors, architects, engineers and financial firms — to consider joining the effort. In addition to science labs, Brookhaven officials envision construction of cafeterias, extended-stay housing, a day care center, an outdoor courtyard and an amphitheater to serve thousands of employees and visitors expected to use the site annually.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine touted plans for a new Long Island Rail Road station near the lab's southern border to better serve the facility and local residents.

Romaine said creation of the research hub was "a historic moment" that would help the lab turn science "into things that better the world."

"Today we're at the advent of a different time," Romaine said. "This is a lab that is poised to make major changes in our world."

Lab officials said they are developing a bidding process to consider proposals. Additional facilities for electricity, water, heating and sanitation systems also will be required to serve the new facilities.

Marty Fallier, the lab's director for campus development, said about 200,000 square feet of existing buildings, most dating to World War II, when the property was used as a military training center, will be demolished to make room for new construction. Many buildings slated for demolition, which currently provide temporary housing for visiting scientists, have become obsolete, he said.

"They’re really no longer sustainable," Fallier said. "We want to provide modern housing for the research community."

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