Collier commission to consider Jackson Lab bond issue, hear project update

Because of a tight schedule, the commission is being asked Tuesday to approve a bond resolution that will be submitted to the court to see if the Jackson project meets a bonding requirement of serving a “valid public purpose.”

The Collier County Commission meets beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the commission chambers at the government complex, corner of Airport-Pulling Road and U.S. 41 East.

— Jackson Laboratory’s application to a state agency for $50 million in first-year funding is still under review and it might not be until mid-November at the earliest when there is final word about the state money.

Enterprise Florida, a nonprofit agency in partnership with the state to promote economic development, has been reviewing the application since summer. From there, it will go to the state’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development for review.

County Manager Leo Ochs is scheduled Tuesday to provide the Collier County Commission with a status update on the proposed Jackson project and timeline.

The expectation is the state’s Legislative Budget Commission would get the project within 60 days for review. When and if that gets approved, Jackson could negotiate a contract with the state and the $50 million could be placed in a trust, according to the county manager’s written report to commissioners.

The county still has many issues to resolve, including whether some of the state money could be used for construction of Jackson’s planned 165,000-square-foot genetics research institute on 50 acres on Oil Well Road near Ave Maria. Another issue is when the state funding would be available.

“Answers to these questions haven’t yet been received from the state, making it difficult to know the specific requirements for the local funding commitment,” according to the report.

Spearheaded by the Economic Development Council (EDC), the project involves bringing the Maine-based nonprofit genetics research institute to Collier to serve as an anchor for developing a biomedical cluster with university-based research, hospital and clinical programs, and commercial enterprises in the developing field of personalized medicine.

The intent is economic diversification and the creation of thousands of new jobs over a 20-year buildout. Barron Collier Co. has agreed to donate 50 acres on Oil Well Road to Jackson and earmark hundreds of more acres for the biomedical park.

The University of South Florida at Tampa, Edison State College and Florida Gulf Coast University have signed letters of intent to participate in the park.

The project is divisive in the community because of the huge sum of local tax dollars that would be involved and questions about the validity of projections by EDC consultants about the number of jobs it would create. Another issue is the likelihood that other nonprofit and commercial entities would want a cash infusion from the county to locate in the biomedical park, similar to Jackson’s enticement.

Commission Chairman Fred Coyle, who has taken the lead on the project, said there are differences of opinion regarding when the state is expected to be done with all its reviews of Jackson’s application but mid-November seems to be a best estimate.

That means county leaders won’t have a full 120 days to complete decisions, based on a deadline set forth this past spring by the state Legislature when it approved the $50 million in first-year funding. The 120 days includes deciding how county government would come up with its local $50 million match, if the County Commission decides to go forward.

The county has a March 1 deadline to start construction of the Jackson building or the state money is forfeited and goes back to the state’s general budget, Coyle said.

“It is my understanding we have to begin ground-breaking by March 1,” he said.

Because of the tight schedule, the commission is being asked Tuesday to approve a bond resolution that will be submitted to the court to see if the Jackson project meets a bonding requirement of serving a “valid public purpose.”

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The county wants the court opinion in case a later decision is made to issue bonds, potentially up to $130 million, for the entire Jackson project. The state Legislature would have to earmark $80 million more to match the county.

“This bond resolution is merely something for the courts to consider,” Coyle said. “If they say ‘no,’ it solves that part of the puzzle.”

Commissioners directed staff at a Sept. 14 meeting to draw up the documents for submitting to the court and County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow said a public court hearing will be held.

The resolution before the commission Tuesday doesn’t obligate the county to actually issue bonds for financing the $130-million project, according to county documents.

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The estimated cost for preparing the court papers and for a court hearing is $50,000, but that could change if a legal challenge is filed to oppose the county action.

Coyle said he expects county leaders will hold several public hearings to debate whether the project is economically viable for moving forward, which could be done when a contract with Jackson is scheduled for a discussion.

Coyle said he would like to see that happen in November. From there, another public hearing could be scheduled to decide how county government would do its local financing, if the decision is to move forward.

The county’s citizen-based Productivity Committee this past summer looked at several scenarios that include a franchise fee, issuing general revenue bonds that would require a voter referendum or issuing bonds that pledge other revenue sources for the debt, or some combination of funding.

“I think we will have to make some tough decisions in November or December,” Coyle said.

What also is being explored is if some of the state’s money could be used for construction of Jackson’s laboratory, which would include wet labs for research purposes.

“I can see a part of the state’s $50 million match, a portion of it could go to the building, and a portion of our $50 million, but not all of it, could go to the building,” he said.

Sometime in June, the state Legislature will have made its decision whether to allocate in the next fiscal year some of the remaining $80 million for the project.

“If we are not making acceptable progress, the state may postpone funding until the following year,” Coyle said.

__ Connect with reporter Liz Freeman at www.naplesnews.com/staff/liz_freeman

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Comments » 3

RayPray writes:

I want to be open-minded.....

For this reason, I will change my opinion and immediately launch myself personally into plumping to pour hundreds of millions of our tax dollars down the Jax$on Lab$ rathole.

But only if tax-eater Donna Fiala can manage to pass an IQ test.....

marcoislander writes:

donna have some more wine If jacksons so great wheres the private money or the takeover. Wake up people

RayPray writes:

How about we offer Jax$on Lab$ Track K for free to build on, if in return Jax will promise to canoodle the IQ DNA of all Marco teens so these extra SPECIAL kids can all zip straight into Harvard or Yale -- as their noisy parents seem to believe they deserve -- without our having to squander precious $$$ to erect an Apartheid High School Academy to accomplish this miracle?

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