Cleveland Clinic Gets Unanimous Nod To Negotiate For VGTI Building In Port St. Lucie

The Cleveland Clinic, which has quickly established a presence across the Treasure Coast, already wants to expand that presence by taking over the former Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute of Florida facility and establishing a cancer and neuroscience research center here.

A Miami-based medical marijuana-research company, JBS Renovations, also wants to acquire the former VGTI property, now called the Florida Center for Bio-Sciences. Unlike Cleveland Clinic, however, it is offering cash — $14.5 million — for the 8-acre campus and 107,000 square-foot building.

The Port St. Lucie City Council Tuesday voted 5-0 to authorize City Manager Russ Blackburn to enter negotiations with Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute, which would allow the city to continue its goal of transforming the Tradition area into a biotech research corridor.

Blackburn will bring a draft agreement to the City Council in 60 days.

“I’m looking forward for a great partnership,” City Councilwoman Stephanie Morgan said. “I can’t wait to see the name change on the building.”

An agreement to take over the city-owned research building would reduce its operating expenses by $1.5 million a year, according to the city.

Mayor Greg Oravec said Cleveland Clinic’s reputation for being a “world-class brand” in medical research would help the city

“I truly believe in my heart that this will be for the better of healthcare in Port St. Lucie, for the better of biotechnology in the state and also the world,” Oravec said.

Cleveland Clinic’s proposal includes creating a translational vaccine and immunotherapy institute that would become the focal point for development of treatments in areas such as cancer, neuroscience, infectious disease and allergies, according to a city news release.

An unnamed international biotech company would share the building with Cleveland Clinic, according to the news release.

Cleveland Clinic proposes creating 100 jobs over the next five years.

The hospital’s proposal, however, does not include payments to the city for the building.The unnamed biotech company would assume full responsibility for building maintenance, operating expenses and payment of special assessments and community-development fees.

Cleveland Clinic would be responsible for all costs associated with the recruitment and employment of research scientists, according to the city.

In January, Cleveland Clinic completed a $500 million takeover of Martin Health System and its three hospitals, and a $250 million takeover of Indian River Medical Center.

Acquisition of the ex-VGTI property would expand its footprint in the Tradition Center for Innovation, joining Cleveland Clinic Tradition Hospital.

After Cleveland Clinic acquired Martin Health System, its officials began requesting information about operation and maintenance cost of the former VGTI campus and made several site visits, a city spokeswoman said Monday afternoon.

Florida International University is in the process of acquiring the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies — next to the VGTI site — for a “specialized-purpose” research center.

“With Cleveland Clinic’s proposal, the city of Port St. Lucie would fulfill its long-held vision for this facility, to add a new pillar to our economy of high-end research,” City Manager Russ Blackburn said in a statement.

“Becoming an established home for Cleveland Clinic’s international health-care brand and the world-renowned Lerner Research Institute would be game-changing for Port St. Lucie and our jobs corridor,” he said.

If Cleveland Clinic successfully acquires the property, it would put an end to a nine-year financial struggle for Port St. Lucie. The city borrowed $64 million in 2010 to build and outfit the 107,000 square-foot facility to lure the biotech company.

VGTI Florida opened in 2013 and was required to repay the money — with interest —over 30 years. However, it began losing funding and closed in October 2015.

When VGTI stopped making loan payments in 2015, the city assumed the financial responsibility. The city still owesabout $53.7 million, a city spokeswoman said.

 

Source: TC Palm

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