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From a building renovation standpoint, it's the perfect marriage: transforming aging, outdated—and totally empty, to boot—retail space into a thriving, modern research laboratory in the up-and-coming biotech industry.

That's exactly what Recursion Pharmaceuticals has done with the completion in June of a 120,000 SF expansion of its Salt Lake headquarters at The Gateway, a project that required the construction team to do the unfathomable—cut an 18 ft. by 18 ft. hole in a post-tensioned concrete slab, a delicate, highly-risky venture for any contractor.  

"There was a ton of risk with it," said Donavon Minnis, CEO/Founder of Salt Lake-based Engage Contracting, the general contractor. "My career has been comprised of projects that are very complicated, ones that have a huge amount of risk. It takes months of planning, while the actual task itself takes very little time in comparison."

Minnis said Vestar—a Phoenix-headquartered developer that acquired the 21-acre, 623,000 SF development in February 2016—had been considering ways to accomplish the feat a few times over the years, but were unable to find someone to execute it. 

Engage hired A-Core Concrete Cutting of Salt Lake for the task and according to Minnis they did an excellent job. "From the frontside to the backside we basically had to brace up the parking garage and three levels of floors [essentially the entire building] to release the cables, cut the hole, restructure the opening, shore up the edges of the slabs so we could retighten the cables in all directions, and put it all back together. It was monumental to be able to get that done,” said Minnis.

"To be able to cut a significant opening [...] was a huge undertaking," said Bryan Hill, General Manager at The Gateway. "We did extensive preliminary reports to see if it was even possible. We didn't anticipate the opening would be that large." 

From a design standpoint it was the most critical aspect in fulfilling the owner's vision of a grand staircase connecting the two 60,000 SF levels, seen by Recursion as essential to maintaining company culture and a high level of employee collaboration. 

"That was a major undertaking," said Jason Gordon, Sr. Facilities Manager for Recursion, a rapidly growing, clinical stage TechBio company founded in 2013. "It required 12 weeks of planning. We had to brace—pole bracing from floor-to-ceiling every two square feet—three levels from Rio Grande to 500 West before we could cut that hole. This was literally the only place we could do it."

"This is a cavernous, large space without connections, and we needed more connection for our team to operate and have a similar environment that we have across the street [Recursion's Corporate HQ, renovated in 2018]," said Jesse Dean, Principal, Real Estate and Workplace Experience Partner for the firm. "We now have over 200,000 SF at The Gateway—we doubled down in terms of ensuring this is going to be a great life science space. We recognized the value of creating a nice lab and office space in a former mall. It's adjacent to [mass] transit, it's right next to the Delta Center, we have a lot of amenities—our team loves it." 

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