A global health innovation district to be developed in Midtown

By Maria Saporta


A constellation of Georgia-based global health entities has zeroed in on a Midtown tower to serve as the center of Atlanta’s Global Health Innovation District.


The Center for Global Health Innovation is in the final stages of negotiations to move to Tower Square, the former AT&T Building (and before that Southern Bell and BellSouth) that sits on top of the North Avenue MARTA Station.


The building is currently owned by Icahn Enterprises, founded by billionaire Carl Icahn.


“We have been working on this for a number of years,” said Clark Dean, a founding board member of the Center or Global Health Innovation (CGHI). “We are in the process of finalizing our negotiations with Tower Square. Our targeted move-in date is in the fourth quarter of 2021.”


Atlanta is uniquely positioned to have a Global Health Innovation District. Thanks to the presence of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta has become the leading center for global health.


“The COVID-19 global pandemic has spurred an innovation revolution for the life sciences and health technology industries,” Maria Thacker Goethe, CEO of CGHI, wrote in an email. “This district will allow for intentional collaboration between these sectors with our unparalleled global health community and will prompt economic growth and more importantly save lives.”


In order to solidify its role as a global health center, the community decided a few years ago it needed to have a central location where the different players could convene and interact.


Goethe said the announcement is “the culmination of the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Global Health ATL initiative,” and it represents thousands of volunteer hours over more than two years.


“The whole idea of this global health initiative is to united leaders in the life sciences to improve health outcomes around the world,” said Dean who is also executive managing director and a partner of the Transwestern real estate firm. “The whole purpose of this effort is to unite the global health, life sciences and health technology committees. Such a powerful hub for global health is something that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world.”


Dean did say that if negotiations with the Icahn group for Tower Square fall through, CGHI has several other good real estate options for the Global Health Innovation District.


The district would include CGHI, which is the umbrella entity for Georgia Bio, the Georgia Global Health Alliance, the STEM Institute, GHC3 and the Global Health Innovation District.


They would all be co-located in the new space, which would have a large conference facility, a catering kitchen, lab space including wet labs, a mission control area or GHC3, a digital cave and a host of other amenities for the global health community.


“This effort is already drawing national and global players who see the value of participating in this kind of ecosystem,” said Dean, who is also co-chair of GHC3. “The value is in the quest of how we can use the technology we have to solve problems. If you create a dense marketplace of problems, such as COVID, that allows us to define those problems and attract problem solvers. It’s a great opportunity to translate research that’s being done at the university level.”


Right now, the plan is for CGHI to lease three or four floors in the office tower that would be connected by a bridge to the “annex” building, where the conference center would be located. Eventually, Dean envisions the district having up to six floors in the building or labs and offices.


Because the building is virtually empty, Dean said there would be plenty of opportunities to grow. Other like-minded companies, nonprofits and organizations also could be drawn to the location to take advantage of the amenities.


One of Georgia’s strong suits is its “incredibly diverse population,” which is important for clinical trials and research. Dean said he envisions global health entities will advance local health, especially in rural areas, as they test solutions.


When asked about the funding for the Global Health Innovation District, Dean was upbeat.


“We have engaged experts to develop a robust business plan with detailed budgets,” Dean said. “The business plan demonstrates the ability for the Center to fund its operating costs and provide sustainable funds to advance the mission.”


With plans for the Global Health Innovation District, at long last Atlanta is moving forward with a comprehensive plan to maximize its role as the center for global health. A physical location will encourage greater cooperation and partnerships between the various global health and innovation entities in the city.


“The whole point of this is to draw members of the global health, life sciences and health technologies to locate in the district,” Dean said. “Other organizations whose missions align with ours are welcome.”


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