West Palm Beach commissioners reject medical campus for downtown site


The medical campus proposed for downtown’s prime Tent Site died Monday, after city commissioners chose after two years of development negotiations to solicit competitive proposals for the prominent city-owned property instead.

City Commissioner Keith James led the charge against the proposal by developer Michael McCloskey, saying it might “cannibalize” existing medical businesses in the city and that the commission didn’t have enough information to evaluate the developer’s ability to perform.

The commissioners, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, voted 4-1 to have staff draft a request for proposals. Only Commissioner Shanon Materio supported the development proposal.

McCloskey said that a week earlier, in a private meeting, James told him he would never support the proposal, because McCloskey had supported his and Mayor Jeri Muoio’s opponents in the March municipal elections. James told The Palm Beach Post his recollection of the conversation was different.

The medical project, at Okeechobee Boulevard and South Dixie Highway, was to include as prospective tenants non-hospital medical facilities run by Jupiter Medical Center, Miami Children’s Hospital, Caron addiction treatment center and New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center, as well as The Fresh Market grocery. But St. Mary’s and Good Samaritan medical centers in West Palm, both owned by for-profit Tenet Healthcare Corp., opposed the project.

McCloskey, just hours before the vote, said he was filing complaints with the county and state ethics commissions against James and Muoio, who until March was on the St. Mary’s board of directors. At the outset of the discussion Monday, she said that she had made all necessary disclosures.

CRA executive director Jon Ward told the commissioners that the proposal had emerged from discussions vastly improved and that most of the changes requested by the mayor and others had been included in the draft development agreement. McCloskey was to buy the site from the city for $13.5 million, and the up-to-$8.5 million in job creation incentives he originally requested but which the mayor opposed had been taken out.

But he said that while the agreement was a sound one, without a competitive request for proposals he could not be sure it was the best deal possible for the city.

James came at the project with a list of concerns. He said the board had received too little information about the developer’s financial ability or health care development experience, and that independent research was needed to determine the need for a medical campus and whether it would damage local medical providers by competing with them. He also characterized the price as a discount.

McCloskey said all those issues were addressed at a meeting July 7 and before. He said there were three appraisals and that the $13.5 million represented the middle one. He said his team had vast health care development and construction experience. The venture had $50 million in backing pledged from his financial partner, Mount Kellett, a $7 billion private-equity firm, he said. He added that potential competitors had months in which they could have presented alternate proposals.

But James, backed by commissioners Paula Ryan, Sylvia Moffett and Cory Neering, voted for the CRA staff to draft a procedure for soliciting a new round of offers.

McCloskey said afterward he will consider building the project on alternative sites downtown that don’t require him to buy land from the city. He indicated he wasn’t likely to participate in the new request for proposals.

“Right now, I don’t think I stand a chance to get a fair shake from this city commission, or at least the majority of it,” he said.


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