The scramble to build biotech research space in Florida, fueled by multi-million-dollar government subsidies, has become more crowded over the past month as pioneer biomedical entrepreneur-philanthropist Alfred Mann and the Max Planck Society have disclosed plans to expand into the Sunshine State, while the Burnham Institute for Medical Research last week broke ground on an $80 million campus there.
Max Planck and Mann’s research campus arm could push Florida’s spending on biotech past the $1 billion mark, if the state and local municipalities approve incentives for both newly announced projects.
Mann Research Center LLC, Mann’s research campus arm, disclosed plans last week to build a second research center on 22 acres it is in contract to purchase from Core Properties at its mixed-use, master-planned community Tradition, within Port St. Lucie. The limited liability company said it would build there a research campus akin to its Mann Biomedical Park in Valencia, Calif.
“Though final plans for the property are contingent upon due diligence reviews performed by Mann Research Center and Tradition developer Core Communities, preliminary plans call for a five- to six-building complex with a mixture of medical office, research and development, corporate office, and support retail space,” Mann Research and Core Properties stated in an Oct. 1 press release announcing the plan.
That announcement did not say how much research space Mann Research is looking to build in Port St. Lucie. Plans for Tradition include a Florida Center for Innovation at Tradition to consist of up to 400,000 square feet of research space, as well as 100,000 square feet of medical and office space, 80,000 square feet of restaurant and retail, a 300-bed hospital, and 300 hotel rooms.
The Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies will occupy an $80 million, 100,000-square-foot campus now under construction within FCI, appearing to leave Mann with 300,000 square feet of the research component.
Port St. Lucie city manager Donald Cooper told BioRegion News that because Tradition, Fla., is an 8,000-acre state-designated “development of regional impact,” Core and Mann Research have flexibility to add to the planned acreage and square footage of research space. To enhance its flexibility, and pave the way for pursuing needed site plan approvals, the developer has asked the city for “planned unit development” zoning status. A decision is likely “probably within the next two months,” he said.
“We’re expediting approvals in order to facilitate this development. It’s going to be a relatively short process,” Cooper said.
Since Torrey Pines would occupy 20 acres and Mann 22, that would leave FCI about 80 acres for future development. But that number could grow, bringing FCI to above the 120 acres now envisioned, Core Communities spokesman Shawn Reilly said in an interview.
“Depending on market demand, it’s possible that FCI could grow in the future under existing entitlements,” Reilly told BioRegion News via e-mail.
Core and Mann have yet to submit detailed plans to Port St. Lucie officials spelling out how much of that space they wish to develop. One possible clue is the size of Mann Research’s California campus — more than 600,000 square feet of industrial, office, and R&D space — which the release called “a similar complex” to the Florida project Mann plans to pursue.
Tradition has been approved for 8 million square feet of commercial, retail, R&D and industrial space over 25 years, including the components of FCI such as the hospital and hotel.
On Oct. 20, Core executives will hold a ceremony formally opening one key component of the community – The Landing at Tradition, a 600,000-square-foot, 79-acre retail center co-anchored by Target, Babies R Us, Bed Bath & Beyond and other national chains.
Headquartered in Port St. Lucie, Core is the residential community development unit of the publicly-traded Levitt Corporation, whose founder William Levitt built communities bearing his name in Pennsylvania and the New York suburb of Long Island.
Mann: Incentives, But No Cash
Port St. Lucie officials have been supportive until now of FCI and Tradition. The city has subsidized FCI by agreeing to furnish $40 million toward infrastructure improvements at FCI such as water and sewer systems, roads, and interchanges, in addition to another $40 million share of the $71.5 million state-local subsidy package approved for the Torrey Pines institute.
But Cooper cautioned that Port St. Lucie will not furnish an additional cash subsidy to Mann Research.
“To be blunt about it, we gave a fairly large incentive to Torrey Pines, and there’s only so much we can do. But we are providing a sizeable amount in infrastructure,” Cooper said.
“We still think biotech as an industry is very attractive for communities. There’s a general recognition that it’s one of the future industries.
“Getting in on the ground floor and having a prestigious research facility that may bring additional types of development to your location is desirable,” he said. “It’s not cheap, and you have to make some judgment calls on whether or not you will ultimately have a return on your investment.”
Mann Research has declined to comment beyond its press release, pending completion of a due-diligence review period. The Florida purchase “could close later this year,” Core stated in the release.
“We believe Tradition is an ideal location for a life sciences complex where the sharing of facilities, equipment and expertise can advance the development and commercialization of cutting-edge research,” said John DelRusso, vice president of real estate operations for Mann Research Center, in its release. “The proximity to the Torrey Pines Institute, easy access to Interstate 95 and the live, work and play mix unique to Tradition are components attractive to life sciences organizations and the workers they employ.”
Torrey Pines: ‘35 Percent’ Complete
Construction of the Torrey Pines campus is “35 percent” complete, the project’s general contractor, Suffolk Construction, announced on Oct. 3, a day after BioRegion News contacted the institute for an update on the work. Over the past two months, Suffolk said, it has completed the building’s exterior wall panel system, finished about 95 percent of the ground floor slab and the exterior “eyebrows” or sunscreens; and placed through the roof deck all elevated slabs, the mechanical penthouse columns, and the pre-cast soffit beams and joists.
At present, Suffolk said, it is framing the interior of the building on the first and second floors; and installing the exterior glazing, the first-floor mechanical duct work, the first- and second-floor mechanical piping, the first-floor electrical ‘rough-in,’ and storm water utilities.
Sara Misselhorn, a Torrey Pines spokeswoman, told BioRegion News that construction had proceeded ahead of schedule. She said the institute plans to open the new facility in December 2008, rather than 2009 as earlier forecast, and still plans to create there 190 jobs. The institute says its Florida project would complement, not replace, its existing facility in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla, Calif.
Torrey Pines initially planned to build its facility some 60 miles south in Boca Raton last year, until the Palm Beach County Board of Commissioners balked at offering the institute the $100 million subsidy it sought.
Several commissioners publicly questioned the wisdom of giving incentives to Torrey Pines, in part citing its relatively small amount of funding from the National Institutes of Health compared with other research institutions checking out Florida. According to NIH, Torrey Pines received $4.6 million from 13 grants, compared with $65.9 million from 104 grants for Burnham.
“The board felt if they were going to invest a significant amount of money, they wanted to get the biggest and the best,” Shannon LaRocque, assistant county administrator for Palm Beach County, recalled last week in an interview. “Fortunately Max Planck is very interested to be here. We just felt that they were the best in the world.”
Max Planck: Coming to America
Over the past month, Palm Beach county officials have offered a much warmer welcome to Max Planck. The German-based nonprofit network of 80 institutes, research units, and smaller working groups is planning to build its first US research site adjacent to the Scripps Research Institute campus now under construction at Florida Atlantic University in Jupiter, Fla. Max Planck expects to complete its facility some time next year, and base 135 employees there.
Berthold Neizert, head of Max Planck’s international relations division, told BioRegion News via e-mail on Oct. 4 the society would extend its bioimaging focus to the planned Florida facility.
“In addition to further developing and complementing the research activities conducted by our institutes, our Florida Institute will use the most advanced techniques for visualization of microscopic molecular processes to achieve a deeper understanding of the structure, dynamics, and function of molecules and tissues in order to tackle challenging problems in biology, bioengineering, and medicine,” Neizert said.
In announcing plans for the Florida site last month, Max Planck offered two reasons for its interest in Palm Beach. One was the society’s desire to expand beyond its Munich, Germany, home base.
“The Max Planck Florida institute would give us an independent foothold in the world's most important country for science. We want to export the Max Planck success model and step up our international activities in Europe, the US and Asia,” said Peter Gruss, president of the Max Planck Society, in a press release.
“We still think biotech as an industry is very attractive for communities. There’s a general recognition that it’s one of the future industries.”
The other was the site’s adjacency to Scripps Florida and its high-throughput drug development center, which the society said allowed for the possibility of future collaborations ranging from partner institutes to full-fledged Max Planck Institutes. “Scripps and Max Planck are a dream team for innovative basic research in biomedicine,” Gruss said.
Expansion into Florida, Max Planck said, would require $190 million in government subsidies — including at least $86.9 million conceptually approved last month by the Palm Beach county commissioners board, and subject to further talks with county officials. A Max Planck administrator would not confirm the society was seeking $94 million from the state, the figure widely used by local officials and published in local newspapers, but did say talks were progressing to its satisfaction.
“We are currently very optimistic that we will be able to enter into satisfying grant agreements with county and state authorities,” Neizert said.
Max Planck is reportedly seeking $94 million from the state’s $250 million Innovation Incentive Fund, created last year and increased this year to stimulate development of larger projects in biotech and other technologies. Talks have begun with the state’s public-private economic development arm, Enterprise Florida, according to both its spokesman Stuart Doyle and a Palm Beach County official.
“We’ve had our lobbying teams up in Tallahassee (last) week, and so far, the state has been very receptive,” LaRocque said.
LaRocque told BioRegion News the county considers its proposed subsidy for Max Planck a wise investment because the $190 million in subsidies being discussed is projected to yield $1.2 billion in economic activity over the next 20 years. That figure includes $354 million in employee compensation and profits, $175 million in disposable personal income, and $30.5 million in cumulative sales tax revenues.
County commissioners believed Max Planck would generate more spinoff activity, and thus more taxes and economic activity for the county, than Torrey Pines. That is no small argument, LaRocque said, given the county’s desire to diversify its economy beyond cyclical tourism and a diminishing agriculture base.
Max Planck’s international recognition, she added, fits with the county’s goal of drumming up more business from overseas companies: “Palm Beach County is certainly on the map from a tourism standpoint. But from a business standpoint, we’re not there.”
The $190 million in incentives eyed for Max Planck is part of roughly $1 billion in state and local government subsidies showered on biotech projects, most of them proposed by research institutions, since 2003. That year, then-governor Jeb Bush persuaded state lawmakers to approve a share of what would eventually be $510 million in incentives to create, then build the first anchor of Florida’s ground-up biotech cluster, the research institute Scripps Florida.
Scripps is now constructing a 364,000-square-foot permanent campus — three buildings with laboratory and administrative space — within a 100-acre portion of Florida Atlantic University’s campus in Jupiter. The facility is set to open in the first quarter of 2009. In the meantime, about 250 professionals work in 74,000 square feet of temporary lab space in two buildings at the university.
Scripps broke ground last March, in what was the project’s second ceremonial groundbreaking in two years. The first took place in 2005 for a $137 million, 100-acre campus at Palm Beach County’s undeveloped Mecca Farms property, a project that was killed following lawsuits by environmental advocates, forcing county commissioners to relocate Scripps’ permanent campus to the university.
Burnham: Shovels in the Ground
Scripps and Torrey Pines have racked up nearly two-thirds of the total billion dollars in subsidies committed by Florida’s state and local governments — a policy the state has continued under Bush’s successor, Gov. Charlie Crist. Another $350 million has been awarded to Burnham, which last week held a groundbreaking ceremony to signal the start of construction on a 175,000-square-foot facility in the Orlando, Fla., master-planned community of Lake Nona. Set to open in spring 2009, the facility will consist of a two-story administrative wing and a three-story research wing (see rendering).
The ceremony was a joint groundbreaking celebrated with the University of Central Florida, which moved the first dirt on its $68 million College of Medicine set to open about the same time as the Burnham site. UCF reinforced its connection to the Burnham project by naming the institute’s president John Reed as an adjunct faculty member for the medical school.
Burnham and UCF will occupy part of a 600-acre Science and Technology Park within the 7,000-acre Lake Nona community. Plans for the sci-tech park also call for a new $560 million Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and the planned Nemours Orlando Children’s Hospital and Research Campus.
UCF’s four-story 173,000 square-foot college of medicine — to include a medical library — is one of two facilities planned by UCF for a campus within the sci-tech campus. The other facility is the five-story 198,000 square-foot Burnett Biomedical Sciences Building, for which construction began in May.
Lake Nona’s owner-developer, the private investment company Tavistock Group, chipped in more than $30 million in cash and 100 acres of land towards the UCF College of Medicine and the Burnham campus.
Burnham has committed to hiring at least 300 professionals over the next decade for the Lake Nona facility, which would be the institute’s second. It will focus on research into diabetes and obesity, while the institute’s existing site in La Jolla would continue to focus on cancer, infectious and inflammatory diseases, and degenerative diseases associated with aging. Burnham defines those to include neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; as well as stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.
Burnham has already established a beachhead in Florida, employing 21 people within 14,000 square feet of temporary space donated by Florida's Blood Centers at its building within Orlando Central Park. The institute has begun working to attract faculty members to Florida: “There were three prospective faculty recruits visiting during the time of the groundbreaking,” Burnham spokeswoman Andrea Moser said in an interview.