Marijuana lab hears pitch for Tradition site

Port St. Lucie officials urged a start-up cannabinoid research company to consider developing a laboratory in Tradition Commerce Park to serve the burgeoning medical and recreational marijuana industry.

JBS Renovations and SinnCal Labs offered $14.5 million for the former Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute Florida building in Tradition, but the City Council last month decided to negotiate a sale to Cleveland Clinic.

City Manager Russ Blackburn advised the council to treat the JBS Renovations/SinnCal Labs offer as a backup plan for the VGTI building in case the negotiations with Cleveland Clinic fail.

In the meantime, the city’s real estate broker, Avison Young Florida, can continue talking to JBS Renovation/SinnCal Labs representatives to determine the company’s financial viability, Blackburn said.

The broker can also try to gauge the company’s interest in developing new facilities on city-owned land in Tradition Commerce Center, which is also known as Southern Grove.

SinnCal Labs intends to provide the medical and recreational marijuana industries with testing services to measure the quality and potency of cannabis products, city records show. The tests include cannabinoid profiling, terpene analysis and microbiological and pesticide screening.

“It’s early in the process with JBS Renovations,” Blackburn told the council on May 28. “Certainly we would look to see if we could identify another site for this entity. We’ll look to see if there is a location that works in Southern Grove.”

Mayor Greg Oravec urged JBS Renovations/SinnCal Labs to “find an opportunity to build a new lab in Port St. Lucie.”

“I think that there’s going to need to be a lot of research in the field relating to medical marijuana and I hope they will pick Port St. Lucie to do that research,” Oravec said.

Florida’s successful 2016 referendum on legalizing medical marijuana received 70 percent of the vote in Port St. Lucie, Oravec noted.

The city gained control over the VGTI lab in August 2017 because it had backed $64 million in loans that financed the building’s construction. The city still owes $57 million in principal on the loans, city records show. It costs the city about $5.6 million per year for the building’s maintenance, utilities, assessments and debt service.

Blackburn and Cleveland Clinic have until the end of July to strike a deal for the 97,000-square-foot building and 8-acre parcel at 9801 SW Discovery Way.

The city took over 1,160 acres in nearby Tradition Commerce Center in June 2018 after the owner announced it was bailing out on more than $5 million per year in property taxes and assessments.

It has been the city’s goal since at least 2000 to try to attract relatively high-paying businesses to the 4-mile-long stretch along Interstate 95 between Becker Road and Tradition Parkway.

As part its offer for the VGTI building,
SinnCal Labs provided the city a business plan listing 14 cannabis-related companies that signed up to lease laboratory or office space.

But the company has not yet provided the anticipated number of workers that will be employed in the building or their anticipated wages, Blackburn said.

SinnCal Labs’ business plan also envisions the company franchising cannabis testing labs in California, Colorado, Oklahoma and Europe.

“The global cannabis testing market is expected to reach $1.4 billion by 2021,” the business plan says. “The growth in this market is driven mainly by legalization of medical cannabis, coupled with the growing number of cannabis testing laboratories.”

Liberty Health Sciences opened a medical marijuana dispensary on U.S. 1 in Port St. Lucie last June and other dispensaries have opened in Fort Pierce and Vero Beach.

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