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Middletown targeted for mega pharmaceutical campus

Katie Tabeling

Project Dragonfly projects opening pharmaceutical manufacturing operations by 2024, with hopes of building out a large-scale campus. | PHOTO COURTESY OF PRELIMINARY LAND USE SERVICE

MIDDLETOWN — An unknown prospect has set eyes on breaking ground on a multi-million square-foot campus next year in what would be a first-of-its-kind pharmaceutical facility for Middletown.

Planning documents submitted to Middletown and state officials show the proposed 1.74 million-square-foot campus with at least seven buildings and one utility facility that would support the infrastructure for an unknown pharmaceutical company looking to grow in Delaware. The entire campus would be built in phases on 190 acres off Levels Road currently owned by investment firm Sherman Capital Markets.

This farmland might become a major employer for New Castle County under a project working its way through local and state planning processes. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

The pharmaceutical company has yet to be announced, as the development is making its way through the state and local planning process known as “Project Dragonfly.” David Fleisher, senior managing director of commercial real estate advisory firm Savills, said that his client would manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients and eventually package them in a “solid dose” form, like in a pill.

This site has really been focused on because it would allow the company to build its facility in a campus-style over a number of years and phases,” Fleisher told the Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission on May 20.

Project Dragonfly plans on constructing laboratory space to test its products, as well as some manufacturing and packaging operations for sterile and solid products. An administration building will also be central to the facility. The company anticipates employing up to 1,200 employees when the campus is completely built out, which could take years.

Early plans show 3,000 parking spaces, but Fleisher told planning officials the expectation is up to 1,500 parking spaces as operations will have multiple shifts of employees. The final design should have the site look more like a modern business park rather than an industrial facility.

“It’s important to note that Project Dragonfly has a global sustainability program that focuses on reducing emissions and employing environmentally friendly initiatives at their facilities, along with being the leading advocate for green chemistry solutions,” Fleisher told state planning officials during a May 26 Preliminary Land Use Service meeting. “These will be key elements in the engineering site development process.”

Middletown has long been on the rise, starting as a town with around 6,000 people in 2000 but now with a population of 22,500. But with the boom in houses and apartments, the area has also seen tremendous growth buoyed by a Transportation Improvement District (TID) in 2015 west of Route 71 and concentrated around U.S. Route 301. Since then, large swaths of retail and restaurants have opened in that area.

The proposed project would be a major win for the state if landed, bringing more than 1,000 jobs. | PHOTO COURTESY OF STATE OF DELAWARE

Delaware’s second Amazon fulfillment center and Breakthru Beverages headquarters hoped to serve as catalysts for more warehouse and distribution developments. But Middletown has yet to see a pharmaceutical manufacturer with the promise of more than a thousand jobs like Project Dragonfly.

If the project clears state and Middletown approval, final engineering will be done this year and construction will start in 2022. Phase one of the campus should be completed by the end of 2023, and operations should begin by early 2024.

Phase one has yet to be defined by Project Dragonfly, although Fleisher said it is anticipated to include manufacturing for the active ingredients and the final drug product, the administration building, and the utility plant to ensure that further expansions could be supported.

“The plan is to start there at least, build out from there and get into the ultimate campus as business meets demand,” he told Middletown officials. “It’s going to be a number of years [for complete build-out.] You need the business demand for 1.74 million square feet, although you could build it fast.”

The proposed project would take up much of the open space to the south of Amazon’s fulfillment center. | MAP COURTESY OF STATE OF DELAWARE

Although the tenant isn’t known, it is likely that Project Dragonfly is the prospect teased in April by Kurt Foreman, president and CEO of Delaware Prosperity Partnership, the state’s public-private economic development agency.

“One of our most exciting projects is a very large life science opportunity that would be, if we win it, one of the largest investments made in Delaware in decades, and it’s a company that wouldn’t be a household name,” Foreman told Delaware Business Times.

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