The first buildings within a massive life sciences district at Georgia Tech blend in with Atlanta’s array of shiny office towers, but they are separated by what’s on the inside.

Rows of lab equipment are flanked by emergency showers and fume hoods. The clinical rooms and adjoining workspaces are brightened by flower arrangements placed in beakers — an apt metaphor for the building’s role as a nurturing host to grow science startups.

Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera said the role of Science Square’s first phase, which formally opened Thursday, is to provide a place for the institute’s innovators to thrive.

“You need to create the spaces where those ideas and that talent can translate into solutions, businesses, startups and economic opportunity,” Cabrera said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The 18-acre innovation district — a collaboration between Texas-based developer Trammell Crow Co. and Georgia Tech — is located just south of the institute’s campus and North Avenue. It’s one of the largest efforts in the state to gain prestige in the competitive life sciences and biotech industries.

Credit: Natrice Miller /

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Credit: Natrice Miller /

The first phase includes a 13-story lab building called Science Square Labs and a 280-unit apartment complex dubbed The Grace. The five-phase project will eventually include more than 2.3 million square feet of lab and office space.

Science Square Labs includes more than 368,000 square feet of lab and office space, which will house startups and act as a bridge between Georgia Tech’s nearby Midtown campus and the corporate world. It’s a model lifted from the institute’s Coda building, a glitzy technology and research tower that opened in 2019 and prompted several tech companies to open nearby campuses.

Cabrera pointed out the window of the new lab building toward the fast-growing Tech Square area and its shiny towers boasting multiple Fortune 500 logos, saying that level of investment doesn’t happen by accident.

“It happened because community leaders, city leaders and a research university in the center brought in the resources and the talent to create new ideas,” he said. “And that spills over into amazing economic activity in its surroundings.”

Portal Innovations, a Chicago-based life sciences venture capital incubator, will occupy the 10th floor of Science Square Labs, offering the space to entrepreneurs. Another floor is reserved as “graduator” space for additional science startups.

Katherine Lynch, a Trammell Crow principal, said the grand opening is more than just a milestone for the construction team. It’ll allow for more tenants to join the project.

“We have a tremendous amount of leasing activity, especially the last few months leading up to opening,” she said. “Having lab space open and available is really crucial for these users that sometimes need space as soon as they get (Food and Drug Administration) approval or their clinical study results back.”

The Grace residential complex includes a 14-story tower and a connected six-story building. A tenth of the units within The Grace — 28 in total — will be reserved for tenants who make 60% of the area median income, which is $42,900 for an individual.

The site falls within an federal Opportunity Zone, an area that provides tax credits for development projects in low-income neighborhoods. The Development Authority of Fulton County also approved up to $29.4 million in property tax breaks for the development.

Trammell Crow, which is building a pedestrian bridge to connect the institute’s campus to west Atlanta neighborhoods, also promised $2.5 million to support education efforts in surrounding communities to help nearby residents gain skills to work in the life sciences industry.

Lynch said the project’s next phase, which will likely consist of another office and lab building, will enter its design stage once Science Square Labs is 50% leased. Another residential building is planned for phase 3.