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Chestnut Run Innovation & Science Park

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Chestnut Run Innovation & Science Park | RENDERINGS COURTESY OF MRA GROUP

The next big thing in innovation.

There’s a stretch of Route 141 that was once known as “DuPont Row.” It runs past several sites the chemical giant has at sometime occupied — Experimental Station, Hagley Mills, Barley Mill Plaza and Chestnut Run — and has undergone an almost complete restructuring in recent years. None will be more dramatic than the transformation of Chestnut Run, which was acquired from DuPont in late 2022 by the MRA Group of Horsham, PA.

With more than a dozen existing buildings sited on a 163-acre campus and containing 780,000 square feet available for R&D, biopharma, advanced manufacturing and applied sciences activities, MRA has committed to a $500 million renovation of the campus, much of which will take place in the next two years. MRA immediately renamed the facility CRISP —Chestnut Run Innovation & Science Park — and announced leasebacks to DuPont of one building and a portion of another one temporarily, as well as signing up its first new tenant. DuPont will still maintain its corporate headquarters in an adjacent complex just north, between CRISP and Lancaster Pike.

Mike Wojewodka

“Within five years, we expect to redo and occupy everything within the campus,” says Mike Wojewodka, MRA executive vice president and partner, who is overseeing the transformation. MRA has an impressive track record for such conversions, having repurposed two former corporate R&D facilities already: the 133-acre, 600,000-square-foot Spring House Innovation Park in Lower Gwynedd Township, PA, once occupied by Rohm & Haas, and the 137-acre, 800,000-square-foot TEK Park in Lehigh Valley, PA, once headquarters for AT&T’s Bell Labs. It has since sold the latter facility.

Serving the Community
Although CRISP’s primary tenants will be science and technology companies, Wojewodka emphasizes that the facility will also develop several amenities for those on campus and the community at large, including a 130-room hotel, a fitness center, conference space, an outdoor amphitheater and accommodations for food services, including restaurants. Most of these facilities are expected to be completed by year-end 2023.

“We are also seeking an education component to help with workforce development,” Wojewodka says, “although we don’t yet have that commitment from anyone.” Another innovation is that CRISP will be an open campus. “We plan to teardown the fences and to invite the community in for various activities, especially at the amphitheater,” he says.

The plan is not to tear down the existing buildings, which had recently housed DuPont research and business activities, but to retrofit them, beginning with the north part of the CRISP campus. “We will replace the buildings’ infrastructures to save energy,” Wojewodka says. “Right now there is a single power plant, but we plan for each building to have its own energy source,” as well as independently house other operational functions. Each building will have its own individual VRF [variable refrigerant flow] system and the current red brick facades will be replaced with more transparent exteriors.

An overall contractor for the reconstruction has not been chosen, Wojewodka says, but locally headquartered Bancroft Construction is performing pre-construction work. “Our plan is to begin with reconverting existing structures to save time,” he says, but also notes that perhaps half the space will require at least some structural customization to fit the needs and desires of individual clients.

“We’ve been looking for five years for the right place to purchase in northern Delaware,” Wojewodka says. “Bill Provine [CEO and founder of the Delaware Innovation Space] was the person who made the connection.” He adds there is plenty of evidence that a continued need for R&D facilities by science and technology businesses exists. In the three months since the creation of CRISP was announced, Wojewodka says “at least two dozen companies have expressed interest in locating here, and I think a third of those will continue” as serious candidates.

A home-grown company, Prelude Therapeutics, signed on in December as the first tenant other than DuPont. At the time of the signing, Prelude CEO Kris Vaddi said, “Since our founding in 2016, Prelude Therapeutics has proudly contributed to the growth of an evolving biotech hub in the Wilmington area. We believe our planned state-of-the-art office and lab space, and centrality to a life sciences campus, will enable us to continue attracting top-tier, diverse talent to our exceptional team.” The publicly traded company, which had been housed at the nearby Innovation Space at the Experimental Station, has a pipeline of potentially transformative medicines for people living with cancers.

In some ways, MRA’s plans to have CRISP focus on opportunities for employee socialization and interaction among tenant companies that go beyond the food amenities is very similar to a pared-down Silicon Valley workforce philosophy. “We will have bocce courts and fire pits,” Wojewodka says, and he is also excited about other nearby business activities as being good draws for interested companies and their employees. “I think having a Wegmans next door is just great,” he says, referring to the conversion of the old Barley Mill Plaza site north of Lancaster Pike to retail business and housing.

Wojewodka is already looking ahead to activities intended to play on the goodwill of former DuPont employees who are perhaps nostalgic about the sale of their old stomping grounds. He says, “We can envision holding reunions for the people who once worked at Chestnut Run.”

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