(Click for large map of proposed site for Jackson Laboratory)
- Photo Galleries of Jackson Laboratory
- Videos about Jackson Laboratory
- Documents about Jackson Laboratory
- Special Section: Find documents, videos, photos and stories about Jackson Laboratory
Reporting from Bar Harbor, Maine:
NAPLES — Jackson Laboratory’s plans to come to Collier County remain on track with county leaders deciding to make a short-term loan to the project while they wait for the fate of state funding.
The Collier County Commission voted 4-1 Tuesday, with Commissioner Tom Henning casting the dissenting vote, to have staff draw up a first-year loan of $28 million to Jackson so lab officials can continue working to bring more business partners to a future biomedical park near Ave Maria. Commissioner Tom Henning was the dissenting vote.
The move also allows the Maine-based nonprofit Jackson and supporters to work on bringing more private dollars to the project. Jackson officials have said the project needs $28 million for first-year funding to get started.
“It is very doable but I have to reiterate it is short-term funding,” Leo Ochs, the county’s manager, told the board of the loan.
Commissioner Frank Halas said the decision gives local residents’ time to put pressure on federal lawmakers to pass a second stimulus package to states. The state Legislature approved $50 million this past spring for the Jackson project contingent on a second stimulus package from the federal government. Congress has been stalled on another stimulus bill.
“Whatever it takes, we need to try and move forward,” Halas said. “Maybe this one-time, inter-county loan is good.”
The Barron Collier Co. has agreed to donate 50 acres to Jackson on Oil Well Road and donate another 250 acres to the University of South Florida, a future hospital, Edison State College’s planned charter high school and others for the future biomedical park. The plan is for Jackson to serve as the anchor to attract others, with the first announced partner being USF in Tampa for research, education and clinical collaboration.
Tammie Nemecek, chief executive officer of the Economic Development Council, said the board’s decision signaled a good day. It shows Collier leaders are still interested in bringing Jackson to the community and developing a biomedical cluster.
“For other organizations, it is so important that Collier County is still interested and let’s see what other partnerships can be formed,” she said.
Others against the project were upset commissioners rejected putting the issue to a referendum, where ultimately the county needs to come up with $130 million for Jackson to come. If the state’s match of $50 million comes through, state lawmakers in later years would have to come up with the remaining $80 million.
Chris Carpenter, a 12-year resident who held up sign against tax dollars going to Jackson, said she believes commissioners were afraid to put it on a referendum out of fear it would be voted down.
“It is an enormous amount of money and I think they should have put it to a vote of the people,” she said. “This is our money.”
Daniel Cook left the commission chambers wondering how the county would come up with the rest of the money and when those decisions would be made.
“How’s it going to be funded five or 10 years down the road?” Cook asked.
Local resident John Lundin said he was amazed to hear Commission Chairman Fred Coyle say the project may be able to move forward somehow with private support if the federal dollars, as the state’s match, do not materialize. He also said Coyle squashed Commissioner Jim Coletta’s efforts to do a small property tax rate increase for political reasons.
“He did it purely for his (primary) re-election on Aug. 24,” Lundin said.
Coyle is up against Lavigne Kirkpatrick for the District 4 commission seat.
K.P.. Pezeshkan, vice president of business development and marketing for Kraft Construction, said the board’s decision allows Jackson to keep working on other partners. He said he didn’t think the citizen-based Productivity Committee had enough time to weigh the impact of the USF partnership announced last week. The committee had been studying the economic viability of the Jackson project for seven weeks.
“Our industry is almost dead,” he said, acknowledging that Kraft has been supportive of Jackson. He traveled to Bar Harbor, Maine, two weeks ago when Jackson held an annual weekend fundraiser and educational program.
”I don’t have the job but I would like a shot at the job,” he said, in reference to Jackson wanting to build a 165,000-square-foot building for a genetics research center. That could get 400 to 500 construction workers back to work.
The county scheduled a 10 a.m. public hearing to debate the contentious Jackson project and 109 people signed up to speak.
Steve Harrison, chairman of the productivity committee, gave an overview of the groups’s conclusions that a consultant’s report had overstated job projections of 7,500 jobs in the park and another 4,000 indirect, but permanent, jobs. The committee pointed out numerous risks with the project, not the least of which is the potential that the county would have to spend more than $130 million and get a low rate of return on the investment. The consultants, the Washington Economics Group, were retained by the EDC.
Scott Bonham said that Jackson Lab has been in Bar Harbor for 81 years and questioned whether it had fostered any biomedical clustering there. He implored the board not to use taxpayer money for the laboratory.
“The people of Collier County must not become sugar daddy to Jackson Lab or anyone,” he said. “Commissioners, the proposed action is pure speculation (and is) gambling with the money of couples, families. In my mind this is a stupid move. Do not do it, please.”
Dr. James Talano, president of the Collier County Medical Society, told the board that looking beyond the local economy is essential at these hard times. The medical society supports going forward but two-thirds of its members said taxpayer dollars should not be used, he said.
“I have come to the conclusion that their mission is helping humanity,” he said. “Jackson Lab can only improve the knowledge and understanding of diseases with how they affect our citizens.”
Local businessman Kevin Thomas, founder of Alternative Laboratories, said he was originally against the project but had a complete change of heart.
“I would like to buy 10 acres. I would like to move my facility out there,” Thomas said. “I’m in. I want to participate in the park. I’m ready to go, where do I send my check?”
Marielena Montesino de Stuart, an Ave Maria resident, said Jackson has been misleading and the project would only help the Ave Maria project that has faltered.
“(The Jackson project) is nothing but an immoral and undemocratic bail out of (Tom) Monaghan and the Ave Maria project,” she said.
Georgia Hiller, a county commission candidate for District 2 in North Naples, called for a referendum and said the issue at hand is about public policy.
She referenced two recent articles, one about how Broward County Commissioners had approved $60 million in bond funding that 10 companies, which competed for the bonds, will have to pay back on their own. The second article was about how Palm Beach leaders are struggling with a $100-million shortfall this year, in part due to bond debt for bringing Scripps Research Institute there in 2003.
After a lunch break, many speakers did not return and the last speaker addressed the board shortly before 3 p.m.