Monday, October 23, 2006

3rd Anniversary for Scripps Florida

This is the 3rd Anniversary of the Scripps Florida deal. Here is an update...

Science campus slowly takes root in Florida's soil
By Deana Poole and Stephen Pounds
Palm Beach Post Staff Writers
Monday, October 23, 2006

Gov. Jeb Bush called the vote a "defining moment in Florida's future." An opportunity unparalleled. A partnership unprecedented.
Three years ago today, the legislature approved a $310 million incentive package to bring the world-renowned Scripps Research Institute to Palm Beach County. And with the county's additional $200 million commitment, plans were laid to have the institute's Florida campus open this fall.
That was the plan, at least.
Instead of a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the opening of the institute's new home, a ribbon was cut last week to celebrate the opening of a second temporary building on Florida Atlantic University's Jupiter campus. The new 33,000-square-foot building will help ease space constraints and allow the institute to recruit more staff as the permanent facilities are built nearby.
Crews just started clearing the 30 acres of land late last week. The end of construction is expected in 2009.
The setbacks, prompted by a judge's order and subsequent debates over alternative sites, have changed the course of those plans. They originally called for Scripps' campus to be built on 100 acres at Mecca Farms with another contiguous 400 acres set aside for spinoff companies. Now Scripps' campus is divided between 30 acres at FAU and 70 on the Briger tract. Space for spinoff companies is spread through five north-county cities. Instead of a 30-acre contract between Scripps and Palm Beach County, it's now 15.
But Scripps President Richard Lerner said the changes have not hindered the scientists' endeavors.
"As painful it was, it was for the most part good," Lerner said.
Since Scripps Florida was born in late 2003, the institute has hired 191 employees, filed 29 patent applications and received $12 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health. It also has entered into five collaborative agreements with Florida universities and established more than 30 scientific collaborations with Florida scientists.
The notable accomplishments came during the same time period when the county and Scripps were engaged in a drawn-out saga over where the institute's Florida headquarters should end up, followed by contentious contract negotiations. The past 13 months alone create a dizzying timeline of ups and downs and one critical vote after another.
For many county commissioners, the problem started at the beginning with a hurried rush to approve a deal to build Scripps' biotech village at Mecca Farms. They say they had little choice; they might lose the coveted biotech venture to Orlando if they slowed the plan.
"Everybody wanted to listen to the governor," said Commissioner Addie Greene, who ultimately became the swing vote to build Scripps' labs in Jupiter. "We were really following the governor's lead rather than doing our job as the commission and looking out for the taxpayers."
Palm Beach County Administrator Bob Weisman said when the project was announced, it was "a moving target."
"What you learn from that is: When something of such impact is proposed, you really have to try to slow it down and have a very broad understanding of what all the impacts and repercussions might be," he said. "Having said that, when people are threatening you that they might leave and go someplace else, and you want them, it's tough to take that time."
Lerner said the secrecy in the beginning was critical.
"I actually think Jeb did it in the right way," he said. "I know you guys don't like secrecy. My guess is that if it wasn't a secret, we'd still be doing it right now."
Lerner admits the La Jolla, Calif.-based institute was naive about the political environment here.
"I'll use a stronger word: perhaps even foolish, in assuming that these kind of land wars wouldn't go on," he said.
The experience has left Palm Beach County more cautious in quickly approving hefty incentives for nonprofit institutes under time pressures and with many unknowns. Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies is proof of that.
In two sometimes-hostile debates in August, county commissioners critically and harshly questioned Torrey Pines President Richard Houghten's $94 million proposal to build a biotech lab in Boca Raton. In the end, he chose Port St. Lucie because officials there treated him better.
Some wonder if the long debate over Scripps and the acrimonious exchange between Houghten and the commission could paint Palm Beach County as anti-business.
"It certainly was disconcerting for people like me who are thinking of making an investment," said Sheridan "Sherry" Snyder, president of Biocatalyst International, a Virginia-based firm involved in biotech ventures. "It went on for so long, and there was quite a bit of animosity between them and Scripps, that there was some bruises and bangs."

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