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Scripps board votes to stick with original site for biotech park

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Scripps Research Institute rejected an alternate Palm Beach County site to build its biotechnology park, instead choosing to support the selection of a rural citrus grove for the $800 million taxpayer-funded project.

Scripps' executive committee, meeting Wednesday at its La Jolla, headquarters, turned down the Florida Research Park because the backup site lacks needed permits, could face legal challenges and may be difficult to market to other biotech companies expected to cluster around Scripps Florida.

In a letter faxed to county officials late Wednesday, Scripps urged commissioners to focus on defending the plan for the original site at Mecca Farms. Scripps also asked commissioners to work toward reaching a settlement with environmental opponents of the plan.

"We urge you to focus on building trust and consensus in the community for the vision you offered Scripps and Florida at Mecca," wrote Doug Bingham, Scripps' executive vice president and chief operating officer.

The Mecca Farms site has drawn legal challenges from environmental groups who claim building the facility on the 1,920-acre former citrus grove will increase suburban sprawl, pose environmental hazards and hurt the fragile Everglades.

The county commission voted Feb. 22 to offer the alternate Florida Research Park after analysis showed it would cost less to purchase and develop over 30 years than any other site.

The county and state have pledged roughly $800 million to buy the land, build the facility, pay its operating costs for seven years and develop a biotech cluster around the institute.

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