Conceding that nothing could be done to alter the path set forth by their predecessors, Palm Beach County commissioners approved a land transfer that gives Scripps Research Instituteprime land in Palm Beach Gardens for $1.
"While I don't think this board would have approved something similar today, it is what it is," Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said, noting that she wasn't an "enthusiastic cheerleader" on this decision.
Five commissioners supported the land transfer on Tuesday, while Mayor Dave Kerner was absent from the vote and Commissioner Mack Bernard dissented. The vote had been delayed by two weeks at the commissioners' request so more information could be gathered about the land value and whether Scripps had held up its end of the bargain.
More: Palm Beach County commissioners delay Scripps land transfer, want more answers
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"I want to demonstrate that Palm Beach County is open for business, and we are here to embrace the businesses coming here," Vice Mayor Robert Weinroth said.
The decision at hand was formalizing a deal struck by county commissioners in 2006 that brought Scripps to Jupiter. The bioscience research nonprofit contractually was obligated to create545 jobs and remain in the county for 15 years,after which it would receive 70 acres for a biotech village on the southeast corner of Interstate 95 and Donald Ross Road, an areaknown as the Briger tract.
The county bought 40 acres of that land for the deal in 2006 for $16 million, with the remaining 30 acres donated by the property owner.
For Bernard, part of the issue was the taxpayer dollars $310 million from the state and $269 million from Palm Beach County that went into this effort to attract Scripps, while the other part was the countygiving away land for almost free.
In a presentation, county staff members shared three appraisals that had been done on the property. Two in 2006 put the market value between $33.5 million and $36.6 million, and another appraisal in 2012 valued the property at $40 million.
The county did not have a more recent appraisal performed for theproperty, instead using the assessed value given by property appraiser's officein 2020, putting that value at $27.5 million.
The assessed value of a property, though, is a percentage of the market value, which is used to determine the property's worth. A nearby land deal went for $1 million per acre, which would mean the Briger tract could be worth $70 million.
Douglas Bingham, Scripps Research executive vice president of Florida operations, refuted that valuation, since the land has biotech use restrictions on it until 2026 on the 30-acre parcel and until 2031 on the larger parcel.
"Once the restrictions are removed, we're basically approving property worth close to $70 million for $1," Bernard said. "As a county commissioner, I just don't think it's appropriate for me to support giving a $70 million property for $1."
During Scripps' time in Jupiter, Bingham said the nonprofit has had a $3.2 billion economic impact over more than 15 years, created 14 spinoff companies and trained 1,826 people, including 823 high school or undergraduate interns.
Bingham noted Scripps' efforts to build the bioscience industry, including recruiting other companies like Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, as well as hiring a firm that searched for 18 months to try toattract interested parties to the Briger tract.
Commissioner Maria Marino, who represents the district where Scripps lies, said she received no letters or calls demandingthat the deal be called off.
Michael DeLoye, husband of Scripps spokeswoman Stacey DeLoye, wrote in a public comment supporting the land transfer that the nonprofit was an "unqualified success story" that made financial impact on the community and provided educational opportunities.
But if the county hadn't approved the transfer, he warned it "would just be a continuation of the legacy of Corruption County and be yet another black eye for the county," as well as "cast a dark cloud" over Scripps.
"If the county chooses not to stand by its word and complete the requirements of this contract, Palm Beach County will forever be branded as an untrustworthy business partner," he wrote. "Any business thinking of starting an operation in the county will think twice about doing so."
McKinlay agreed with the sentimentthat a "no" vote could affect efforts to bring businesses to the county.
"I think that not approving it sends the wrong message to other organizations that may be looking torelocate in Palm Beach County and may have to be dependent upon similar type contracts and contractual obligations and incentive programs," she said. "To approve something and then 10 years later say you don't like it isn't a good standard."
Commissioners received several emails in support ahead of Tuesday's meeting, including from Scripps professor Matthew Disney andAlphazyme chief executive Chad Decker. Noel Martinez, president and CEO of North Palm Chamber of Commerce, also offered his support of the transfer.
Alphazyme's Decker said one of the main reasons the customenzyme manufacturing companychose Jupiter was Scripps.
"The presence of Scripps Florida allows companies like Alphazyme to save on startup expenses by giving us access to very expensive equipment and scientific services that are best in class. This in turn allows for us to invest in people to grow our business at the bench level. A win for both Alphazyme, Jupiter and Palm Beach County."
Disney called it "one of the greatest joys of my life" to work at Scripps, where he and his research group looks for treatments for diseases such as cancer, muscular dystrophy and ALS.
"The work that we have done we hope benefits mankind in the form of medicine to treat those that urgently need it," Disney wrote. "Those returns on investment are often long and hard with failures along the way, however, we do it not because it is easy but because it is hard. It is in that difficulty that we diligently work as the payoff would be immense and a fulfillment of my lifes mission."
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