TALLAHASSEE — A mysterious economic development project planned at an airport on Florida's east coast may get nearly $21 million.
A state legislative panel on Tuesday swiftly approved a request by Gov. Rick Scott to spend the money for "Project Magellan."
The approval of the project designated for Melbourne International Airport marks one of the largest single economic development projects approved during Scott's tenure as governor.
Documents from Space Florida, the state's aerospace economic development arm, show that the company that would receive the money is promising to spend up to $500 million on real estate, equipment and furnishings between now and 2020.
The company would also pledge to hire 250 people by the end of 2014, and hundreds more after that although it's not clear at least from Space Florida documents when the additional employees would have to be in place. Many of the jobs are supposed to be high-paying, with some as high as $100,000.
One group critical of the state's economic development efforts said the state should at least identify the company before approving such a large amount.
"Shouldn't the public at least be told the name of the company before we give away more than $20 million of our money?" said Dan Krassner, executive director of the watchdog group Integrity Florida. "Deals like this hide too much from taxpayers and go against Florida's open-government tradition."
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and the Senate budget chief, knows the identity of the company and called it a "good deal for Florida and for taxpayers."
Last year, defense contractor Northrop Grumman announced it was bringing more than 1,000 aerospace jobs to the state including in Melbourne.
A Northrop Grumman spokesman told Florida Today last week that he couldn't say whether his company's new building was connected with Project Magellan.
Florida legislators this past year set aside nearly $74 million in one of the main economic development pots of money used by Scott and the state's economic development agency.
So far, $33.3 million has been released. The Legislative Budget Commission was required to vote on "Project Magellan" because the economic development award is more than $5 million.
There has been criticism over how many high-profile economic development deals have gone bust.
Just last week it was reported that Time Warner is closing a shared services center in Tampa. In 2011, Scott held a news conference to tout the planned facility. The Tampa Bay Times reported that none of the state incentives promised to Time Warner have been paid out.
Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said he voted for the project because he had decided to trust the state economic development team's assessment that it would yield jobs for the state.