City hails new strategy – and name – for VGTI

Tradition’s getting a new neighbor – the City of Port St. Lucie. The city recently got control of the Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute of Florida’s defunct Tradition facility and is rebranding it the Florida Center for Bio-Sciences as it heads to the real estate market.
“We must more forward,” Mayor Greg Oravec said at a press conference to announce the rebranding. “That’s what today’s all about.”
The building at 9801 SW Discovery Way is the last piece of a failed economic-development bid. It’s been in receivership since last year. The mayor and the city manager, Russ Blackburn, spoke optimistically about the future of the 107,000-square-foot research facility at the press conference.
“It’s clearly a new start for the city, for this facility,” Blackburn said. “It’s all about how can we move forward.”
The city guaranteed about $64 million in bonds for the non-profit medical researcher, VGTI, to construct the building in 2010, making Port St Lucie its largest creditor. In 2015, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a state grant the legislature approved for the financially-strapped researcher and it filed bankruptcy shortly after. St. Lucie Circuit Judge Janet Croom appointed Michael Imber of Alvarez & Marsal as receiver over VGTI’s old facility.
The receiver — who was responsible for maintenance — was costing the city about $125,000 a month. In a press release, the city estimated that having possession of the building to do its own maintenance as it seeks a buyer will reduce its costs about $420,000 a year.
At the last regular meeting of the Port St. Lucie City Council, Oravec mused that if the city can’t find a buyer in a reasonable length of time, it might be able to go into a partnership with Indian River State College, or another school, to use the facility. Others on the council agreed.
“It’s something we should discuss if we don’t get a biomedical buyer,” Shannon Martin, vice mayor, said at that meeting.
Colliers International has advertised the building for sale since the beginning of this year. However, it was built to very exacting specifications for gene research, so the pool of perspective buyers is small.
However, Oravec said in an interview before the press conference that the building’s specialization makes it so whoever purchases it will be involved in medicine. That employment sector has been a strength for the area economy in recent years.
The state reported that the Port St. Lucie Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of St. Lucie and Martin counties, gained about 1,400 jobs in the education and healthcare sector over the last year, a 5.5 percent gain. At the press conference, Oravec noted that Tradition has been the site of much of that growth in healthcare and education jobs.
He noted that Keiser University’s Port St. Lucie campus is moving into a larger facility close to the expanding Martin Health System Tradition Medical Center.
Additionally, the once beleaguered Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies in Tradition has gained economic footing.
“This is part of a very prosperous campus right now,” Oravec said.
Oravec previously told St. Lucie Voice he figured the building could sell within about 18 months. He said the rosiest projection is six months.
“I think we have to mentally prepare ourselves for 18 months, and hope for much less,” he said in that interview, which was before the council meeting and press conference.

Leave a Comment