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Atlanta health care hub unveils location, holds back other details

12/15/2021, Mike Kannell, AJC

A coalition of business and health groups Wednesday announced the Midtown location for a new “global health district” aimed at taking advantage of the region’s research muscle and vaulting Atlanta to the top of life science innovation.

What the Center for Global Health Innovation would not reveal is the amount of funding behind the plan or the names of prominent backers and tenants.

The center has signed 17-year leases for 200,000 square feet of space in the 47-story tower once used as offices for AT&T and the annex to the building, officials said, a location meant to provide a central place for collaboration by public sector, private sector and community organizations.

Plans call for a complex that would include offices, laboratories, meeting space and a crisis center that could coordinate responses by nonprofits and corporations to global public health emergencies. Tower Square, where the complex is taking shape, is located at the corner of West Peachtree St. and Ponce de Leon Ave.

The proposed hub for life sciences has ambitious hopes, modeling itself partly on Technology Square, which has helped transform Midtown by serving as a magnet for big companies who want links to Georgia Tech.

Maria Thacker Goethe, CEO of the Center for Global Health Innovation, speaks during a press conference announcing the launch of a new "health district" in Midtown Atlanta on Wednesday, December 15, 2021. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

With its research universities, medical schools, health care tech firms, high-profile aid charities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta can be a leader in life sciences, but it needs a focal point and a coordinated effort, said Maria Thacker Goethe, chief executive of the coalition, formed by a merger of the Georgia Global Health Alliance and Georgia Bio.

“We hope this is the spark that allows the fire to grow,” she said. “This is going to catalyze the industry.”

Efforts at creating the district have been in the works for four years, involving Georgia Bio as well as scores of business leaders, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, Deloitte and the Georgia Global Health Alliance.

City of Atlanta mayor-elect Andre Dickens spoke during the Center for Global Health Innovation's unveiling of its proposed "health district" in midtown Atlanta on Wednesday, December 15, 2021. Dickens noted  the site's direct access to a Marta station and the proximity of Tech Square and the airport. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Still, much remains undisclosed.

The hub has one large tenant, a company that is publicly traded, but whose name is not yet being divulged. There will be at least two other large tenants, but those names will not be announced until next year, Thacker Goethe said.

The initiative has received $26 million from an institutional investor, she said, but declined to identify the company.

She said the project thus far is being “enabled” by partnerships with Atlanta-based consumer fitness firm Sharecare and real estate giant Transwestern.

The effort is also relying on help from a West Coast foundation that insisted on anonymity, Thacker Goethe said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has previously reported that backers of the health hub have courted Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the charity associated with Microsoft’s founder. Both are invested in health care issues.

A statement from the the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said the organization is not involved in this project.

Microsoft declined comment.

The Center for Global Health Innovation facility will include a “bio-bank” that keeps and provides biological specimens that can be used in research, said Thacker Goethe.

A study done for the Georgia Research Alliance several years ago showed Georgia’s life science sector lacked several key elements, starting with the lack of a nucleus, she said. “We didn’t have a place. So you can check that box.”

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