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MRA closes deal for Chestnut Run labs

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MRA Group has closed its acquisition deal for most of the DuPont Chestnut Run headquarters campus, and beginning a $500 million redevelopment. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON – Pennsylvania-based developer MRA Group closed on Tuesday its acquisition of a large chunk of DuPont’s Chestnut Run headquarters campus, which it will turn into a $500 million research and innovation park.

Nearly one year ago, DuPont and MRA, based in Horsham, Pa., announced that they had signed a sale agreement for about 780,000 square feet in about 13 laboratories at the campus off Route 141. MRA ultimately paid $40 million for the parcel, according to county land records.

DuPont’s Chestnut Run Laboratory Campus will be redeveloped into the multi-tenant Chestnut Run Innovation & Science Park. | PHOTO COURTESY OF MRA GROUP

DuPont will continue to host its headquarter offices on the northern edge of the property a few miles west of downtown Wilmington as it has since moving there six years ago. It will also lease about 190,000 square feet in two lab buildings back from MRA Group.

The decision to sell part of its flagship campus came after DuPont conducted a review of facilities worldwide that found that the company had unused lab and office space in Wilmington after years of job cuts and spinoffs, and it resolved to consolidate to “a few essential buildings” at Chestnut Run, a DuPont executive said in 2019.

“We are pleased that MRA Group has an ambitious plan to redevelop the campus for entrepreneurial and science-based innovation,” DuPont said in a statement Wednesday. “DuPont will continue to maintain its global headquarters in the Chestnut Run Offices, adjacent to Chestnut Run Labs, and we look forward to creating a long-term presence where our employees use their time, talent and resources to improve our communities in Wilmington and surrounding New Castle County.”

DuPont said last year that no layoffs are expected in conjunction with the campus’s sale and that the company will consolidate its lab teams to the leased facilities afterward.

“We recognized the amazing potential for the campus to address the regional demand for market-ready life science and advanced manufacturing facilities, particularly when combined with its superior location along the I-95 corridor,” said Mike Wojewodka, MRA Group executive vice president and partner, in a statement announcing the acquisition. “Northern Delaware is ideally positioned to emerge as a hub for life science, research and development, and pharmaceutical manufacturing companies. The deep pool of educated and experienced professionals is an incredible asset to any firm locating here.”

Renamed Chestnut Run Innovation & Science Park (CRISP), the 163-acre campus will feature shared amenities like a hotel, fitness center, outdoor amphitheater, conference space, and restaurants.

Renovations will commence immediately, with the first reconstructed building to be occupied in late summer of 2022, MRA reported, noting that it is in active discussions with several life science and research companies already.

MRA Group’s redevelopment plan envisions a multi-tenant, life science, chemistry, technology, and advanced materials campus at Chestnut Run, its first Delaware project. The 30-year-old firm has already built several such technology-focused campuses in and around Philadelphia, having converted an old AT&T/Bell Laboratory site into TEK Park and a former Rohm & Haas/Dow Chemical research and development site into Spring House Innovation Park.

The firm is known for its adaptive reuse strategy, which tries to save as much of an existing structure and campus as possible while renovating it for a new, modern use. That strategy can also save time on redevelopment.

With Delaware facing a shortage of lab space for growing middle-stage startups and more mature companies, Wojewodka sees Chestnut Run as an obvious solution to building out the needed inventory. MRA would look to market the site to those companies to get a mix of sizes on the campus, which would still be anchored by neighboring multinational DuPont – a potential selling point for companies still looking to raise capital.

“This announcement is more compelling evidence of the immense momentum of the Delaware life science sector,” said Michael Fleming, president of the Delaware BioScience Association, a trade group for the life sciences, in a statement. “MRA Group’s vision for this important site is exciting and inspiring – their team has already become deeply invested in the community and we look forward to working together as they make Chestnut Run a thriving hub of scientific innovation that helps people’s lives and drives Delaware’s economic future.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect the sales price on Dec. 13 after county records had been updated.

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