The Palm Beach County Commission voted unanimously to move forward with construction of a Scripps biotech headquarters, despite the threat of lawsuits by environmentalists over the project’s location.
“It’s time to get this project up and running,” Commission Chairman Tony Masilotti said.
Gov. Jeb Bush encouraged commissioners to move forward with the project. State officials said the center will be a transforming event for Florida’s tourism-dependent economy — on par with the opening of Walt Disney World or NASA’s use of Cape Canaveral as a launching site.
But the site of the project — 1,920 acres on the former Mecca Farms citrus grove — has drawn concern from environmentalists and other groups. Opponents claim the development will violate state land use rules, increase suburban sprawl, pose environmental hazards and hurt the fragile Everglades.
The county has had five victories in court against opponents of the project.
Doug Bingham, chief operating officer of San Diego-based Scripps, vowed to stick with Palm Beach County through pending legal battles.
“I can’t at this point imagine a scenario where we would want to walk away from Palm Beach without doing everything possible to stay here,” Bingham said.
Commissioner Karen Marcus admitted to having concerns with moving forward, yet nonetheless offered her support.
“It is with a dreary and a nervous heart that I support this,” Marcus said. “I do believe that the big [lawsuits] are still out there.”
Commissioners said they believed the worst-case scenario — that a judge orders the completed building torn down — is unlikely.
That outcome would force the county to sell the property at a loss. The county would lose $49.5 million and have no money to build Scripps elsewhere.
The county and state have pledged roughly $800 million to buy the land, build the facility, pay its operating costs for seven years and develop a biotech cluster around the institute.
Scripps is known for groundbreaking work in leukemia, ovarian cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and AIDS.