Deals, development made 2019 a year to remember

Port St. Lucie

Cleveland Clinic and Florida International University are poised to make Tradition Center for Innovation the biotech research hub Port St. Lucie leaders envisioned a decade ago.

Cleveland Clinic and FIU aspire to employ as many as 400 researchers and associates within a decade to staff two high-tech laboratories near Tradition Medical Center.

The proposed FIU-Cleveland Clinic Translational Research Park in western Port St. Lucie will develop therapies for cancer, allergies, infectious diseases and neurological issues. Cleveland Clinic and FIU started hiring researchers in November and plan to ramp up their recruiting in 2020.

FIU anticipates closing on its acquisition of Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies lab on March 1. FIU will lease the lab through Nov. 15, 2026, when Port St. Lucie will transfer title to the university for free.

Cleveland Clinic closed Nov. 13 on a lease to purchase deal with the city for the former Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute Florida lab. Port St. Lucie will give the lab to Cleveland Clinic for free if it creates 200 new jobs in the next five years.

Port St. Lucie also owns 1,100 acres of vacant land in the nearby Tradition Commerce Center that could accommodate additional research facilities and biotech firms.

The rejuvenation of the two high-tech labs came about during a whirlwind year that started Jan. 1 when Cleveland Clinic closed on its merger with Martin Health System and Indian River Medical Center.

Martin Health built Tradition Medical Center in 2012 overlooking the same drainage pond as the two high-tech labs.

So it was only natural for Port St. Lucie officials to pitch the vacant VGTI lab to Cleveland Clinic’s leaders, who also operate the massive Lerner Research Institute. By May, Cleveland Clinic made an offer for the lab and negotiations began.

Cleveland Clinic brought in Vaxine Limited, an Australian biotech firm that excels at obtaining National Institutes of Health grants, as a partner in the lab.

FIU researchers had already been leasing space in TPIMS and negotiating a takeover when they started talking with Cleveland Clinic officials about potential partnerships.

By Nov. 20 and 21, Cleveland Clinic, FIU and Vaxine hosted a symposium featuring 100 researchers, scientists and academics at the rebranded Cleveland Clinic Florida Center for Research and Innovation as well as nearby TPIMS.

The city acquired the lab in August 2017 after VGTI Florida failed in October 2015 as a result of the recession and loss of NIH research grants.

It will take until May 1, 2042, for Port St. Lucie to payoff $64 million in bonds used to finance the construction of the lab, which was completed in 2012.

The lab was worth $14.5 million in 2018, according to a city appraisal. The St. Lucie County Property Appraiser set the value at $12.5 million.

Port St. Lucie borrowed $45.6 million to finance the construction of Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies in 2008 and is scheduled to pay off those bonds on Sept. 1, 2027.

TPIMS is worth $16 million, according to an FIU appraisal. The St. Lucie County Property Appraiser set the value at $11.6 million.

St. Lucie County

It was a banner year for waterfront development in Fort Pierce as Derecktor Shipyards started work on a mega-yacht service center and Audubon Development agreed to build an $85 million mixed-use district.

The solidification of the two major projects culminated two decades of efforts to jump-start economic development along Fort Pierce’s waterfront on the Indian River Lagoon.

Derecktor Shipyards ordered the world’s largest mobile boat hoist from Cimolai Technology in December and plans to put it into service by late 2020 at the former Indian River Terminal site in the Port of Fort Pierce.

The massive 1,500-ton mobile boat hoist will enable Derecktor Shipyards to service vessels up to 5,000 tons, meaning all but a handful of the world’s largest yachts can be accommodated.

Derecktor Shipyards anticipates employing up to 100 workers at a state-of-the-art mega-yacht shipyard under a long-term lease the company signed with St. Lucie County commissioners in April.

The county bought the 12-acre site in 2018 for $22 million, records show. Derecktor Shipyards agreed to pay the county $1.1 million in rent per year and an annual franchise fee starting at $250,000 with future payments changing over time and linked to the facility’s profitability. A new mega-yacht costs about $150 million to purchase and $15 million per year to operate and maintain.

In the other big waterfront deal, Fort Pierce commissioners approved a contract Dec. 2 with Audubon Development of Palm Beach to redevelop the vacant, 7-acre HD King Power Plant site into an arts, entertainment and residential district.

The deal is expected to close in 2020 after a variety of conditions are met, including a determination by Florida Department of Environmental Protection that no further cleanup is required at the site on Indian River Drive between A.E. Backus Avenue and Avenue A.

Audubon Development’s plans for Kings Landing include a 100-room hotel, 12 single-family homes and townhouses, 60 condo units, 42,800-square feet for stores, 24,800 square feet for restaurants and 13,000 square feet for offices. A Marriott brand hotel would be the first building constructed, if the project goes forward.

Audubon Development also agreed to construct a dock in Moore’s Creek and/or build a pedestrian bridge over the creek and plant trees along nearby city streets. The dock and/or bridge will become city property.

Fort Pierce agreed to facilitate land development approvals for the project. However, the contract provides Audubon Development a variety of escape clauses.

The two major waterfront projects are expected to lead to additional economic development along northern St. Lucie County’s extensive waterfront and at Treasure Coast International Airport.

The magnitude of the Derecktor Shipyards and Audubon Development initiatives overshadowed several other economic development projects in northeastern St. Lucie County.

The biggest was Pursuit Boats’ Aug. 29 groundbreaking on a $17 million expansion that will triple the manufacturing capacity of its facilities at 3901 St. Lucie Blvd., across from the airport. Pursuit Boats plans to employ 600 workers by 2024 in a 780,500-square-foot complex that will produce watersports, wake, ski and surf boats.

In another project on the Indian River Lagoon waterfront, Aquaco Farms announced plans in August for a $7 million expansion of its pompano growing operation at 208 Rouse Road, near St. Lucie Village.

Aquaco Farms expects to triple its six-employee work force once the new facilities are completed. The company’s long-term goal is to sell $100 million worth of pompano per year from four locations.

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