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Florida Slowly Discovering Truer Costs of Landing Scripps

June 14, 2004

When Florida Gov. Jeb Bush surprised the world last October by announcing the state had landed an East Coast campus for the Scripps Research Institute, the draw from the public coffers cost was pegged at $510 million. The state was contributing $310 million and the county's share was up to $200 million for land acquisition and building construction.

Scripps promised to create 545 jobs within the first eight years on its new 100-acre campus. That works out to $935,780 of public investment per job. Pricey, yes, but civic leaders are counting on Scripps to serve as a strong magnet to attract even more high wage, high tech businesses at no or lower cost to the state. Gov. Bush projected an additional 50,000 jobs resulting from the research center's presence in the West Palm Beach area within 15 years.

On the basis of these much larger job projections, the county is acquiring more than 6,000 acres to accommodate the office, housing, retail and service needs of this future high tech community. The tax revenues from that growth are supposed to more than offset this initial record public outlay for a tech-based economic development project.

Florida news reports last week reveal the estimated cost to the public already has grown as much as $200 million. The 40 percent jump is due to infrastructure costs related to the location Scripps selected for the campus: 12 miles from the nearest interstate and in an area slated for environmental protection. The estimated cost for the first round of retention ponds, lakes and drainage in the area once part of the Everglades is $17 million alone.

The New Times Broward-Palm Beach, an alternative weekly newspaper for the area to be impacted by the Scripps development, ran last week an engaging 5,200-word, behind-the-hype expose on the process used by both Florida and Scripps to negotiate the deal. The New Times cites independent assessments of the potential spinoff job creation figures and full construction costs. Those reports suggest a more conservative total job creation figure of 20,000 over 30 years -- 40 percent of the jobs in twice the time period than the 50,545 originally projected in 15 years.

Road and infrastructure improvements to deal with the housing needs of the new workers, even at the much smaller figure and over a longer time span, could be as high as $1.6 billion, according to studies cited by the New Times: http://www.newtimesbpb.com/issues/2004-06-03/feature.html