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Goodman: Politicians would be smart to listen to Scripps


Published December 18, 2005



It's the longest-running saga of a brand-name institution not finding a Florida home this side of the Marlins.


And just like the Marlins, it's possible The Scripps Research Institute could say, "To hell with it" and leave.


Forget Port St. Lucie, the latest rival haunting Tony Masilotti's nightmares. The Scripps board is sounding so sick of Florida that the biomedical giant could be the next major league club to say it's had enough of the crazy subtropics.


Who knows, maybe it'll pick Las Vegas, Portland or San Antonio -- wherever the real estate isn't swallowed by the Marlins first.


You can hardly blame Scripps if it gives up on us. Just like the Marlins, it delivered a winner. The Fish produced an outrageous two World Series championships. Scripps attracted 160 scientists to temporary quarters, some of the top names in their specialties, exceeding all expectations.


And both Marlins and Scripps are hobbled by the bumbling of local politicians.


Talking to Dr. Richard Lerner, Scripps' president, last week, I got the distinct impression we could see a disastrous exodus if the county and the state don't settle on a locale that Scripps is happy with.


Yet, the solution is close at hand if the County Commission and the governor don't insist on doing it their way.


Scripps has proposed a compromise that sounds wacky at first: splitting its operations between the last two locations -- the last places standing in a farcical two-year-long process of elimination.


But look harder, and the idea makes sense. The Florida Atlantic University campus at Abacoa, the town-like development in Jupiter, is far and away the best location for Scripps' main operations. Scripps scientists already are working there. Working happily.


The Florida Research Park -- the commissioners' choice -- holds zero allure for the sort of people who collect advanced degrees and wrap themselves into a life in the laboratory. They're a lot more crunchy granola than shiny suburbia.


And yet, the research park still would have an important role to play if biotech takes off. Corporations such as drug manufacturers would want a place they can build big.


To help steer business to the research park, Lerner pledges that Scripps would build its second round of buildings there, after establishing its primary address at FAU/Abacoa.


Sure, the proposal is jolting after we've been fed for so long on the false idea that biotech companies need to stand side by side for this industry to succeed. Lerner told me that biotech can spread 20 miles around Scripps and work just fine.


The original vision of a 500-acre campus at Mecca Farm is dead and gone. It expired the moment U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks decreed a halt to infrastructure construction because of a flawed Army Corps of Engineers permit.


And don't blame the judge or the environmentalists for this fiasco. The overly cocky commissioners made the mistake of underestimating Mecca's drawbacks and now find themselves with a construction freeze.


Actually, it's a blessing in disguise, because it gives us the chance to put Scripps in an eastern location that was best all along. To assuage financial qualms, Lerner said, Scripps soon will present construction plans for FAU/Abacoa that "will be cheaper" than building at the industrial park. Sounds dubious, but we'll see.


Even if he's wrong, and FAU/Abacoa costs more at first, it's still the better long-range bet if it gives Scripps its best chance to thrive. Because the more that Scripps succeeds, the more that biotech grows around here. And the better off we all are.


Look, I'm no developer or economist or scientist. But it seems to me we lured Scripps here because we respected their scientists' talent for discovering new cures and igniting economic opportunities such as Florida's never seen.


Scripps is saying it can be most successful at Abacoa. We'll be fools not to listen.




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While I'm not in favor of the huge gift to Scripps either. They will bring quite a bit more in jobs and economic development to Palm Beach County than a new ballpark would bring to Dade, Broward, or PBC. The price of the two projects is pretty comparable...the payoff isn't even close.




Spoken like a "true" baseball fan...



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