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Orange hasn't given up on Scripps


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Orange County is doing some last-minute lobbying of the Scripps Research Institute, just in case the biotech giant runs into problems when its plans go before the Palm Beach County Commission today.

Orange County Commissioner Linda Stewart said she lobbied Scripps President Richard Lerner on Tuesday to reconsider Orlando should Scripps' deal with Palm Beach fall apart.

The La Jolla, Calif.-based institute studied a site near Lake Nona for a Florida campus, before settling on a citrus grove west of Palm Beach Gardens.

Gov. Jeb Bush, who orchestrated Scripps' move to Florida, has compared its economic impact to the arrival of Walt Disney World in Orlando.

However, the billion-dollar project is running into mounting opposition from environmentalists who fear the Palm Beach County site, known as Mecca Farms, will spur sprawl and wreck a system of wetlands that feeds into the Loxahatchee River.

Other residents have complained that they don't want to bear the cost of a publicly financed biotech village.

Stewart said Lerner told her Scripps would keep Orlando in mind should its plans go sour in Palm Beach.

"That was the indication I got," Stewart said, adding she told Lerner that, in Orange County, "they would not have to fool around with all those permits."

A spokesman said Tuesday that Scripps is concentrating its efforts on the Mecca site, repeating what others in the institute have said for months. But officials have hinted in the past that they would move the project if necessary to keep their deadlines.

Whether Orange County gets a second chance might become clearer today, when the Palm Beach County Commission is scheduled to vote on the land-use changes necessary to build the research park on Mecca Farms.

Palm Beach commissioners have been split over where to put the site, with some preferring something in Jupiter, closer to Interstate 95 and urban areas. But some commissioners say it is too small to accommodate the spin-off development county officials are counting on to recoup their considerable investment.

Adding to the turmoil is Scripps' desire to begin construction of its research center by January, a goal that could be pushed back if environmentalists challenge the Mecca site through the state's administrative hearing process.

The meeting's outcome is certain to be of interest to Orange County officials. Chairman Rich Crotty also said Tuesday he will "look into" the deal again.

"I'm interested to learn if there's been any change of plans," he said. "If opportunity comes knocking, we'll be happy to open the door."

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Why does Scripps insist on having these exurban sites?

I can understand their want for space, but it doesn't seem they're being very cooperative to the cities courting them.

Anyway, I think Palm Beach and the State have too much invested in this already to let it slip away. They'll do whatever they can to keep it

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This would be a great impact on the economy anywhere in Florida it is placed, Palm Beach County or Orange County. If its in Orlando, that would forever change the dynamics of the city, and the economy would improve ten-fold, becoming less reliant on a single industry and making everything more competitive. Its about time Disney didn't run the show in Orlando as they have for the past 30 years. I'd love to see the day when Orlando city leaders just say "no" to Disney on issues, specificially speaking the transportation projects Disney has ruined (high speed rail, lightrail) and the negative, low-density sprawling growth that Orlando wasn't prepared for. Anyways, i'll end my rant. As long as it stays in Florida.

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I'll add my voice to the chorus in saying that as long as it stays in Florida, I'll be happy.

However, a Lake Nona site isn't going to do much to curb sprawl. I'd think there's enough free land around UCF to put it there.

Let's hope Palm Beach can pick a site and get it over with.

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Since this one has the most replies, it might as well be the official Scripss thread.

Palm Beach has approved the Mecca site, but environmentalist vow to fight it:

Scripps project faces battle

Environmentalists vow lengthy fight

WEST PALM BEACH -- The Scripps Research Institute won approval Wednesday to build a biotech center in rural Palm Beach County -- dimming Orlando's hope at making a grab for what has been described as the crown jewel of Florida's 21st century economy.

But the deal to bring Scripps' East Coast headquarters to Florida is anything but settled. Environmentalists immediately promised a lengthy legal challenge, something that Scripps officials have said they consider a worst-case scenario.

And while Palm Beach County commissioners voted to allow a "mini-city" on what until recently was a 2,000-acre orange grove, they did so amid testy disagreements among themselves and pleas from activists who say the research center will lead to wide-scale environmental destruction.

For a county that should be savoring its good fortune at landing an economic engine that has been likened to the arrival of Disney World, Palm Beach County commissioners were hardly feeling the love Wednesday.

"Is this board willing to put Scripps in jeopardy?" an exasperated Commissioner Warren Newell asked at one point.

Officials in other Florida counties and cities, including Orange County, are watching closely, hoping they can lure Scripps away should the deal to build the center on a site known as Mecca Farms fall through.

In recent months, the Mecca Farms site has run into mounting opposition from critics who question the environmental impact, as well as the nearly $1 billion public subsidy the California-based Scripps will receive for the land, construction of its campus and the cost of new roads and utilities.

On Wednesday, environmentalists repeatedly invoked the Everglades as a rallying cry to oppose the Mecca Farms location, which was once part of the wetland system connected to the Everglades. The state and the federal government are spending billions of dollars to help preserve the Everglades, one of the world's prime ecosystems.

Environmentalists would like to see Mecca Farms returned to a natural state, or at the very least to remain rural, said Steven Bell, a member of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition.

"Good conscience demands that we take this last opportunity to restore this land to the Everglades and not put a city on it," Bell said.

County commissioners have spent the past several months looking at other locations that might not have the same potential legal challenges as the Mecca site, but none had the support of Scripps, which is predicted to ultimately create tens of thousands of new jobs in Palm Beach County.

Because Scripps and the county have a contract for the Mecca site, moving the research center without Scripps' consent could give the company a way out of its contract, allowing it to move to another county.

By moving forward on Mecca Farms, the county is setting the stage for what may become one of the most significant growth-management battles in Florida history.

"It has some huge implications," said Janet Bowman, legal director for 1000 Friends of Florida, a nonprofit group that advocates so-called smart growth.

Bowman and an attorney representing the Sierra Club and Florida Wildlife Federation warned that the project appears to violate the state's rules against urban sprawl and objected to the project's impact on the regional traffic system

The next step would be for the groups to file an appeal with the state's department of administrative hearings. Typically, those appeals can take a year or longer to get resolved. And even if the environmentalists lose at the administrative level, they can then file a suit in circuit court.

Scripps officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But they have said it is imperative that they begin construction on their center by January because of the highly competitive nature of biomedical research.

In July, a Scripps official said the organization could move elsewhere in the state and not face the same permitting challenges they have with Mecca Farms.

Orlando's Lake Nona, which was the runner-up to Mecca Farms last fall, could fit that description.

Commissioner Linda Stewart, whose district includes Lake Nona, said the institute would find a much warmer reception in Central Florida.

"I can't think of anybody who wouldn't embrace them if they came here," Stewart said.

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Scripps inspires venture capitalists

By Marcia Heroux Pounds

Business Writer

Posted October 17 2004

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Scripps chemist Peter Schultz, who is helping to plan Scripps Florida, is the founder of seven companies. In fact, the majority of the senior faculty at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., are involved in entrepreneurial ventures. Science-based development of new companies is what venture capital firms say draws them to Florida since Scripps announced plans last year to locate in Palm Beach County.

In venture capital, the investment always has been about people. Venture capital firms raise money from wealthy individual investors, investment banks and other financial institutions and invest it in startup businesses with high growth potential. The firm takes an equity stake in the business and advises management with the goal of a sizeable return.

Scientists and managers are critical to the success of a biotech or life science investment.

Many players in Florida's burgeoning biotech community will be in Boca Raton today for a two-day conference by BioFlorida. The voice of the state's biotech industry, BioFlorida recently moved from Gainesville to West Palm Beach to be near Scripps-related activity.

BioFlorida's seventh annual conference is expected to draw more than 300 participants from biotech companies, law firms and the investment community to share information about financing, marketing analysis and collaborative relationships. The conference is the first of several biotech-focused gatherings planned for this year and next in the state.

The Scripps Research Institute, which over the past two decades has transformed the San Diego area into a bioscience cluster, is the catalyst for Florida's plans. Scripps' vice president of scientific operation, Dr. Harry Orf, will be speaking at BioFlorida on Monday.

"The buzz about Scripps is continuing," said Diana Robinson, the organization's president. "We had a lull because of the hurricanes, but now people in the industry are regaining their focus and hoping for a quick resolution of the issues related to a permanent site. Once that happens, growth of the industry here will follow."

While a few Scripps scientists have started their work in temporary locations at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, the proposed site of the Scripps Florida campus has been enveloped in controversy between Palm Beach County commissioners and environmentalists. Last week, commissioners finished the permitting process for Mecca Farms, an orange grove west of Palm Beach Gardens that is the preferred site of Scripps.

The public investment in the Scripps project is about $821 million. To support the effort, the state also has earmarked $350 million from its pension fund for bioscience investment.

To work toward building the biotech community, the BioFlorida conference will bring together people who are "all part of the essential ferment," explains Dr. Richard Lerner, president of Scripps. "The lawyers, the entrepreneurs, the scientists, the real estate people. They all have a role to play. I'm watching this process happen in Florida."

Intersouth Partners, a venture capital firm in North Carolina's Research Triangle Park region founded in 1985, has stepped up its activity in Florida, said John Glushik, partner with the firm. Intersouth recently participated in a financing round for Applied Genetic Technologies near Gainesville. The drug research company's work is based on technology developed at the University of Florida and Johns Hopkins University.

"We're seeing a lot of great opportunity for investment in Florida," Glushik said. "Initiatives including Scripps are proving the base for a number of startups."

Intersouth looks to partner with both experienced scientists whose work has resulted in commercial products as well as those trying their first venture. "We develop a relationship well before they need capital," Glushik said. "This business is about partnership and long-term relationships are important to us."

Venture capital firms look to invest in technology that offers marketplace potential -- the bigger the better. Some funds specialize in areas like medical devices, which have fewer regulatory hurdles.

"Being a life-science venture investor takes patience," Glushik said. The payoff for investors through an acquisition or initial public offering can take six to eight years.

Biotech companies based in Florida had a struggle to get expansion funds or much investor interest before Scripps' announced plans to come to the state. For some of these companies, the ripple effect from Scripps' presence already is making a difference.

Dyadic International in Jupiter, which develops enzymes for industrial and pharmaceutical uses, was plodding along for 25 years without significant expansion funding. The CEO was considering moving the business to another state when Scripps came along with plans for a Florida campus. Then in February, Lerner agreed to chair Dyadic's scientific advisory board.

The association has been positive for Dyadic, which in August attracted a $6.7 million investment from Bioform, a new fund founded by Crossbow Ventures founder Stephen Warner. West Palm Beach-based Crossbow manages $160 million of investments primarily in the Southeast.

"Richard Lerner is a lightning rod for activity," notes Jonathon Cole, a partner with Edwards & Angell and a player in venture capital activity in Florida.

Edwards & Angell has been meeting with its venture capital contacts, many of whom have worked with Scripps before. "They're all waiting to see how this is going to go," Cole said.

But many warn the process of building a biotech community in South Florida will be slow. "If we saw three or four companies in the next year, that would be good," Cole said.

Some venture capital will come from successful Florida entrepreneurs.

The Astri Group, a private equity fund founded by Miami brothers Jorge and Carlos de Cespedes has invested in Weston-based Bioheart, which is focusing on cell therapy for people who suffer from congestive heart failure. The brothers are co-founders of medical supplier Pharmed Group in Miami and are looking for other investments that provide synergy with their manufacturing concern.

In choosing an investment, Carlos de Cespedes said he also focuses on personal relationships. "It's all based on who and what kind of chemistry is involved," he said. He has faith, for example, in Howard Leonhardt, chief executive officer of Bioheart. "He is so dedicated," de Cespedes said. "Whether he's going to open a Burger King or discover the next treatment for heart disease, he's going to do a very good job at it."

Then there's Rudy Mizocchi, the founder of eight biotech companies including Image Guided Neurologics Inc. in Melbourne. He recently put together a $100 million fund to make seed and early-stage medical device investments.

"The deals will be in the U.S., with strong emphasis on the Southeast and Florida," Mizocchi said. "As an entrepreneur and CEO of many companies, I usually go where the money is ... Things are spawning here."

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