VIDEO: Fred Coyle says Jackson lab deal hinges on judge’s opinion, Rick Scott

Fred Coyle opens up about Jackson Lab

Leader tells of frustrations, opportunities.

County Commissioner Fred Coyle

County Commissioner Fred Coyle

— If Governor-elect Rick Scott doesn’t support the Jackson Laboratory project and a Collier Circuit judge rules it doesn’t serve a valid and paramount public purpose, then the deal is over.

That’s the position of Fred Coyle, Board of County Commissioners chairman, who said Thursday the county will continue its efforts to flesh out information to determine if the Maine-based lab’s planned research facility in Eastern Collier County would benefit the county and citizens.

Gov. Charlie Crist supports the project, but the change in governors and new state administration, Coyle said, means there may be further delays.

“That will put us right back where we were last year,” Coyle said, noting other legislators have their eyes on the $50 million the Legislature committed to the project. “If (Scott) says no, it’s probably a dead deal.”

So far, the lab is stuck in the first phase of a state application process with Enterprise Florida, which is still negotiating and would send its recommendation to the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development. That agency must approve the final application, which would head to Scott before approval by the Joint Legislative Budget Commission.

The lab has worked on the project about two years, supported by the Economic Development Council of Collier County, which contends it’s needed to improve the economy and remain competitive.

“The creation of a Bioscience Village in Collier County is not possible without a catalyst like The Jackson Laboratory,” Tammie Nemecek, EDC president, wrote in an e-mail Thursday, noting the National Governor’s Association recommended governments invest in research and development opportunities, citing the success of others, including Scripps Research Institute in Palm Beach County.

When the Legislature committed $50 million in first-year funding, Collier was to get 120 days to find funding for a local match. The state would be asked to provide up to $80 million more.

Meanwhile, the county has asked Circuit Judge Hugh Hayes to determine if the project serves a valid and paramount public purpose, a necessary step to validate $130 million in bonds for the 20-year project, which includes a biomedical park. So far, the University of South Florida at Tampa, Edison State College and Florida Gulf Coast University have signed letters of intent to participate.

The county has a March 1 deadline to start construction or the state money is forfeited. But Coyle said construction began with digging a lake for the development, with fill being used for Oil Well Road.

However, due to delays in state negotiations, he doesn’t believe the county will have sufficient time to come up with matching funds. And at this point, he said, there’s too much risk involved. That’s why he’s sent questions and concerns to Chris Hart, state economic development director, and Chuck Hewett, Jackson’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

The bond ruling isn’t necessary, Coyle said, but county officials believe it’s the best way to gain information.

“The reason we’re going forward with bond validation is we knew it was going to be challenged,” Coyle said, referring to opposition by citizens and Arthrex Inc., which also sued last week in Tallahassee to block state funding. “We need to get that determination as soon as possible. I think the people deserve that.”

“... If the court says this type of deal isn’t approved, then this deal is finished,” Coyle said, noting county officials wouldn’t have a way to come up with $130 million.

He questioned why a lab that gets numerous grants wouldn’t serve a public purpose, especially if it brings in high-paying jobs, boosts the economy and diversifies it. Coyle believes it will attract other research facilities, personalized health clinics, scientists, doctors, residents and tourists to Collier, while keeping residents from seeking jobs elsewhere.

The University of Florida has made “hundreds of millions of dollars” on spinoffs from its research institute, he said, suggesting the county could receive some profits from lab patents involving genetic research in a search for cures for Alzheimer’s, cancer and other diseases.

“If the court decides against it, then my position is it is a really, really steep climb to take a second bite at the apple,” he said, noting he’s not anxious to go through a long, costly appeal. “It depends on how the judge rules. If he provides some caveats, it might be an opportunity to fill some gaps and holes.”

Coyle urged residents to wait for all information before opposing the project and maintained the county isn’t negotiating behind closed doors. However, he said, the lab has had secret talks with state officials for at least two years, which is a concern, prompting him to repeatedly request information he still hasn’t received.

“We were not included in any of that, which I think is a big mistake,” he said of state negotiations. “There is a likelihood that (they) will negotiate something that will kill the deal. ... That has been our concern all along.”

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