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Florida cuts funding for Torrey Pines in Port St. Lucie


Florida has cut off incentive funding slated to go to one of the biotech centers lured to the state a decade ago because of failure to meet job-creation goals over three consecutive years.

But the state Department of Economic Opportunity isn’t coming, just yet, for any taxpayer-funded equipment from the still-open research institute.

The state agency on Monday advised Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies in Port St Lucie that it intends to move the balance of the remaining incentive money, approximately $3.5 million, into the state general-revenue fund.

“Should Torrey Pines continue to maintain significant operations in Florida, DEO will refrain from executing on its security interest in Torrey Pines equipment that was purchased with state funds,” Karl Blischke, director of the agency’s Division of Strategic Business Development, wrote in a letter to the institute.

Torrey Pines officials responded Wednesday that they are committed to keeping the lights on through next year and to the terms of a 20-year agreement with the state that was signed in November 2006.

“While no one envisioned the impending economic situation that occurred following the start of the agreement, TPIMS has maintained its mission to develop a strong biotechnology community throughout Florida and has tangibly demonstrated its commitment to Florida in many ways,” the institute said in a letter signed by founder & CEO Richard Houghten and President & Chief Operating Office Gregory Welmaker.

They noted that the institute has worked to secure money for its research through grant funding, commercial partnerships and philanthropy.

Last year, Torrey Pines reported having 85 employees, far short of the 189 required.

After Florida rolled out funding to bring the San Diego-based Scripps Research Institute to Palm Beach County and what is now known as the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute to Orlando, the smaller La Jolla, Calif.-based Torey Pines opened a facility and moved its headquarters to Port St. Lucie, lured by the promise of $32 million in state incentives.

The incentive money was part of approximately $1.3 billion spent a decade ago by state and local governments to increase biotech research in Florida, an effort that hasn’t materialized as envisioned.

Port St. Lucie, which was a runner-up in landing Sanford Burnham, put up $45.6 million and built a 107,00-square-foot facility for Torrey Pines.

The Department of Economic Opportunities’ action on Torrey Pines follows a request last month by the state agency for Sanford Burnham to return half of the $155.3 million it was awarded in 2006, along with equipment purchased with tax dollars.

The state agency noted that Sanford Burnham, after failing to work out a deal to turn over the facility to the University of Florida and not reaching job-creation goals, has “assumed the posture it will leave Florida.”

Counsel for Sanford Burnham, in a letter on Oct. 31, acknowledged that a deal for the University of Florida to take over the operations at Orlando’s Lake Nona had fallen through after 10 months of talks, but that no decision had been made about the future of that facility.


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