Bayer is considering the construction of a new building on the former Colgate soap factory site in West Berkeley. Image: Bayer
Bayer is considering the construction of a new building on the former Colgate soap factory site in West Berkeley. Image: Bayer HealthCare

Bayer HealthCare will hold an open house Thursday evening to ask for public comment on a new 80,000-square-foot building the company is considering constructing in West Berkeley.

The new 3-story facility, near Grayson and Seventh streets, would house testing operations — on an existing parking area and empty lot — “for various raw materials and final product” related to Bayer’s recombinant hemophilia treatments, said Bayer spokeswoman Trina Ostrander.

Bayer’s Berkeley facility is the pharmaceutical giant’s international headquarters for biotechnology development.

Ostrander cautioned that the proposal, currently, is just that, as it awaits approval from the company’s governing board in Germany, as well as the green light from local and state agencies. The board in Germany is, minimally, several months away from making a decision on the project. 

Ostrander said the idea would be to prepare the Berkeley site to manufacture a new generation of the company’s recombinant DNA treatments for hemophilia. It would also be Bayer’s first major site improvement of the former Colgate soap factory property, according to a flier about this week’s meeting. Bayer bought the site in 1999.

“It’s the first time that this particular corner of the site that’s most visible to the community has been projected for any kind of significant development,” said Ostrander. Bayer currently owns about 45 acres in West Berkeley, but much of its operations take place on the west side of the property closer to the San Francisco Bay.

When Bayer bought the former soap factory property, the San Francisco Chronicle described it as Berkeley’s “largest private undeveloped site. It has remained vacant since 1981, when Colgate ceased production of soap and other household products. Since then, proposals to develop the site into offices for biotech research have failed to meet Berkeley zoning requirements that the property remain largely industrial.”

Bayer owns approximately 45 acres in West Berkeley. Image: Bayer

More recently, according to the project application, Bayer has constructed a roughly 100,000-square-foot packaging facility and 50,000-square-foot “sterile filling facility” to the west and southwest of the project site. In 2014-15, Bayer will construct a new 4,000-square-foot storage facility to the west of the project site, which the city has already approved.

Bayer has described the proposed project as “a significant new investment” in Berkeley that would “consolidate and modernize” the company’s existing operation. Ostrander said Bayer’s Berkeley site has been the company’s worldwide leader in recombinant DNA treatments for 22 years.

She said staff members who currently work in quality control for Bayer in Berkeley would have the same function in a new facility.

“We can’t predict who will leave,” she said, “but this doesn’t have any impact on staffing at this point.”

The roof level of the main building would comply with the 45-foot allowable height limit for the mixed-manufacturing district, exclusive of the mechanical penthouse and other rooftop appurtenances. Image: Bayer

The company submitted a preliminary application to the city earlier this month, though the design for the building has not yet been finalized. Ostrander said the company is planning to ask the city to hire an extra contractor — which Bayer would pay for — to help move the application more quickly through the city approvals process.

According to the project description, “The architectural appearance of the building would be consistent with the modern architectural palette embodied in the Bayer Buildings 60, 80 and 81, and be a state-of-the-art, modern facility that will represent Bayer’s commitment to technology and sustainability, while enhancing the southeast corner of the Bayer site and connecting this area with West Berkeley’s urban fabric.”

Bayer plans to demolish approximately 65,000 square feet of existing structures, “such that the Project adds a net area of approximately 15,000 square feet to the Bayer properties.” The project would not involve the construction of any new entrances or internal driveways, or otherwise change the circulation network.

The Bayer campus. (Click to view the project description.) Image: Bayer

The project would be built in one phase lasting approximately a year and eight months, beginning in January 2015, according to the proposed schedule. During construction, access to the property would be via the existing Grayson Street Gate.

Ostrander said the company is well aware of concerns about building in West Berkeley, and wants to make sure the public has ample opportunity to consider the project and offer feedback.

“As we launch the local and state review process, we understand the sensitivity around new buildings in West Berkeley, and want to be proactive in presenting the preliminary project to the public,” Ostrander said.

Bayer has won recognition from Berkeley officials who, in 2012, noted that the company has contributed $20 million to the city, created hundreds of jobs, developed paid science training programs for youth and invested in a community foundation to support key health and education programs.

But the company also has its detractors, who have taken issue with some of the products made by Bayer, the company’s employment practices and traffic near its Berkeley campus.

The community forum about the new proposal is scheduled to take place May 8 from 6-7:30 p.m. at Kala Art Institute at 2990 San Pablo Ave. in Berkeley.

Community members with questions or comments can call or write Trina Ostrander at or 510-705-7880. For further information about the project, call Aaron Sage, acting principal planner for the city of Berkeley at 510-981-7425, or email him at Read more background about Bayer in Berkeley here.

Berkeley praises Bayer, city’s largest for-profit employer (11.02.12)
Bayer unveils Berkeley’s largest solar installation (05.30.12)
Activists accuse Bayer of killing bees, protest in Berkeley (05.17.12)
Bayer Healthcare employees reject contract (09.01.11)
Laid-off Bayer workers still fighting for their jobs (08.31.11)
Biotech Academy students get hands-on education (08.17.10)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...