Palm Beach County Commissioners ignored the advice of Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday when they selected a site in north rather than south Palm Beach County to be the permanent home of Scripps Research Institute.
Just how permanent remains to be seen.
The board voted 4-3 to build Scripps' first phase on the Florida Atlantic University Abacoa campus in Jupiter, with the second phase across Donald Ross Road on private land known as the Briger parcel.
On Monday, Bush sent commissioners a 13-page letter supporting a competing site in Boca Raton. The governor said the Boca Raton location was better able to accommodate the spinoffs in biomedical development Scripps is expected to generate. Florida Research Park in unincorporated Palm Beach County also was vying for the Scripps campus.
But in Tallahassee Tuesday afternoon, Bush said he remained concerned about "uncertainties" regarding Jupiter, which calls for initial construction on 30 acres at FAU, with a second phase on 70 acres on the Briger tract. The county has agreed to spend more than $200-million to build the Scripps campus.
In his letter to commissioners, Bush said Jupiter lacked sufficient contiguous space for an economic cluster. He also voiced concerns that Scripps' expansion into the Briger parcel could be delayed by environmental and traffic issues.
On Tuesday, Bush, who has earmarked $369-million in state money for Scripps, said "I appreciate the fact the county commissioners acted, but there's still uncertainty. I'm going to assess it before I give a definitive opinion."
When Scripps of La Jolla, Calif., agreed to expand to Florida more than two years ago, it signed contracts with the state and county indicating the campus would be built on 1,900 acres called Mecca Farms in western Palm Beach County. That site was abandoned by the county late last year after a federal judge stopped construction in response to environmentalists' lawsuits. Because of the site change, both contracts will have to be renegotiated.
Though commissioners opposed to the Jupiter site questioned whether Bush and the institute would accept the location and sign contracts, a Scripps' spokesman expressed satisfaction with the vote.
"We are delighted they have come to a decision so we can move forward to the next stage and focus on science," said Keith McKeown.
Scripps has 176 employees in a temporary lab on the FAU Abacoa campus. A second temporary facility is expected to open in April. McKeown said with Tuesday's vote, it is possible that construction of a permanent facility could be completed within two years.
Once Mecca was out of the picture, Scripps initially favored staying at the FAU site. But last month, it told commissioners it would move wherever the county decided provided there were no unreasonable barriers to beginning construction.
The vote for Jupiter Tuesday was cemented by commissioner Addie Greene, long identified as the swing vote on a seven-member board otherwise divided along north-south county lines. Greene made the motion to put Scripps at Jupiter after four hours of presentations from the three competing factions.
"This has been one of the most challenging times in my political career," she said before making her preference for Jupiter known. "All the sites are good sites."
Greene, the board's vice chairwoman and only minority, made no secret of her intention to leverage her key role to ensure Scripps brings economic benefits to all parts of Palm Beach County.
"We want to make sure everybody is included and happy," Greene had said. "We don't want people to say Scripps is only here for the rich people, or the white people or the scientists."
Her message was heard by the competing developers, who continued to sweeten their proposals even during last-minute presentations. Boca Raton sliced $6-million off its estimated price tag in an effort to land the deal.
"Some have called this the Valentine's Day Massacre," said Boca Raton Mayor Steven Abrams. "All I'm here to do is give you a sweetheart deal."
Florida Research Park, a private property on Beeline Highway, added $2-million for an "outreach program for minorities," and said it would try to raise $3-million from the private sector.
But Jupiter developer George de Guardiola seemed to top all offers with a promise of $5-million from private businessmen to be used over five years for minority scholarships, mentoring or internships. The town of Jupiter had approved $3-million for similar economic development.
"We're providing these funds to the African-American leadership to spend as it sees fit," de Guardiola said Tuesday. "It's not going to some think tank. It's going directly to the community."
When Commissioner Mary McCarty, who favored the Boca Raton site, asked de Guardiola who would receive his group's $5-million check, he replied, "We'll take a lead from Commissioner Greene."
Before making her motion for the north county site, Greene praised all the developers for thinking "out of the box" on how to include diverse communities.
"I hope you'll pursue these initiatives even if your site is not chosen," she said.
After the vote, Greene said, "This is one time when we had the opportunity to say, "Let's be fair, and include the minority community' and that's what happened. That is what swayed my vote and it's not for Addie, it's not for the commission, it's for all minorities in Palm Beach County."
Information from Times staff writer Letitia Stein and wire services was used in this report.
1. FAU CAMPUS IN JUPITER AND BRIGER TRACT
30 acres on FAU's Abacoa campus and 70 acres across Donald Ross Road on private Briger parcel. Estimated acquisition cost: $26-million.
2. FLORIDA RESEARCH PARK
100 acres on private industrial park on Beeline Highway in unincorporated Palm Beach County. Estimated acquisition cost: $21-million.
3. MECCA FARMS
1,900-acre site originally slated for Scripps, but blocked by federal court order late last year. Acquisition cost: $60-million.
4. BOCA RATON
100 city-owned acres on either side of Spanish River Boulevard, west of Interstate 95. Estimated acquisition cost: $17-million.