FIU gets council backing in bid to acquire Torrey Pines

Florida International University wants to acquire the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies in western Port St. Lucie by the end of the year.

FIU’s Biomolecular Sciences Institute would take over the 100,000-square-foot laboratory and office building at 11350 SW Village Parkway in Tradition Center for Innovation.

FIU would keep TPIMS founder Richard Houghton as director, hire many of the key researchers and seek opportunities to collaborate with nearby Cleveland Clinic Hospital Tradition.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that this is really a perfect marriage for FIU,” said Kenneth Furton, FIU’s provost, executive vice president and chief operating officer.

The Port St. Lucie City Council voted unanimously Monday to fully support FIU’s potential acquisition of TPIMS, a key component of the city’s economic development strategy.

The next steps are to win approval for the deal from the FIU Board of Trustees and the state university system’s Board of Governors, Furton said. The deal is expected to close by the end of the year.

TPIMS agreed on Feb. 12 to sell FIU its business, building, intellectual property and other assets, university records show.

FIU is paying TPIMS $1.25 million this year to lease space in the building as of Feb. 1. FIU has the option to renew the lease for another year with the same terms.

The lease agreement gives FIU the option to purchase the building for $500 at any time during the year, as long as the City Council agrees. The city owns the 8.7-acre site and leases it to Torrey Pines under an agreement that expires Nov. 15, 2026, records show. Torrey Pines has the authority to assign its rights and obligations for the building to a nonprofit entity.

The market value of the TPIMS property is $10.8 million, according to the St. Lucie County property appraiser. The building is worth $8,553,500 and the land is worth $2,271,200.

The FIU sale will secure the future of TPIMS, which survived the economic downturn that wiped out the nearby Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute Florida laboratory and the Digital Domain animation studio.

VGTI Florida attributed its failure in October 2015 in part to the loss of millions of dollars in research grants from the National Institutes of Health.

“We currently have about $196 million in research expenditures and we plan to grow that to $300 million over the next five years,” Furton told the council.

Some of that money will be used to recruit 18 research teams to TPIMS in the next three years, Furton said. The fields of research include medicine, nursing, public health, healthcare and engineering.

“The work Richard Houghton has done with his colleagues here in Port St. Lucie ties in perfectly with many different areas including with the work that we’re doing in our College of Medicine,” Furton said.

FIU and TPIMS have both done research related to cancer, infectious diseases, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and addictions, Furton said.

The closing of the deal would complete a dramatic turnaround for TPIMS, which lost state funding in November 2016 for failing to meet job-creation goals.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity filed a complaint against TPIMS in February 2018 seeking to claw back $33 million in grants.

But City Manager Russ Blackburn facilitated a settlement of the state’s complaint in October 2018 and set the stage for TPIMS to join forces with FIU.

“We’ve been talking to FIU for a number of years now,” Houghton told the council. “We’ve worked out over the past year a tremendous number of details that had to be worked out. It’s been a long trek, but at the same time it’s a good one for all.”

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