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Orange County opens to proposals to salvage from Sanford Burnham center

After watching the county’s biggest tax incentives package turn into its biggest economic development bust, Orange County on Tuesday began in-depth deliberations with at least two and possibly more players offering to salvage a heavily-subsidized Lake Nona biomedical research laboratory that is soon to be departed by Sanford Burnham Prebys.

On Tuesday the Orange County Commission heard pitches from Florida Hospital and the University of Central Florida as the central players in two proposed deals to take over the Sanford Burnham Medical Discovery Institute  at Lake Nona, and then heard a request from a possible third player, Orlando Health, that the county take its time, and openly seek other proposals.

One pitch, from Florida Hospital,  offered no cash return to the county or the other partners who had invested in the Sanford Burnham deal, while the other, from UCF, offered rent, and reimbursement of some of the money Sanford Burnham still owes the state.

The county, along with the city of Orlando, and with the developer of Lake Nona, Tavistock Group, are trying to figure out what to do with the $80 million, state-of-the-art laboratory building constructed at Lake Nona, since Sanford Burnham announced in 2016 that it no longer sees a viable way of succeeding there and intends to walk away.

The California-based non-profit pharmaceutical research institute had come to Lake Nona after receiving $40.7 million from Orange County, $32.7 million from Orlando, $155 million from the state, and $17.6 million from Tavistock’s development company for that project, the Lake Nona Land Co.

Any decision on what to do with the state-of-the-art laboratory building the public monies built, and which Sanford Burnham intends to abandon, will have to be from a unanimous agreement among the county, the city of Orlando, and Tavistock, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said Tuesday.

Tuesday at the Orange County Commissioners meeting, UCF appeared to have an early political advantage, though Florida Hospital made a bold pitch for national preeminence, and former Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner, now a vice president with Orlando Health, urged officials to open to other proposals.

Jacobs harshly questioned Florida Hospital over having developed at least the beginnings of its proposal in long-term private talks with Sanford Burnham that left the county and other public stakeholders literally locked out.  Commissioner Emily Bonilla later said that she already prefers the UCF proposal, and she believes other commissioners do too.

The hopes held 12 years ago by state and local officials was for more than just 300 or so high-paying, high-tech jobs the Sanford Burnham projected it would create at Lake Nona, a projection it never came close to achieving.

Sanford Burnham once was considered a cornerstone of what is being developed as Orlando’s Lake Nona Medical City complex of hospitals, medical education, and research institutions, which officials hoped would one day rival huge medical center complexes in other cities, notably in places such as Boston and Houston. While hospitals and medical education have come to Lake Nona, the research component – the component expected to generate the big, long-term, private has not really sprouted. The cornerstone institute, Sanford Burnham, withered compared with expectations before the institute announced the Lake Nona closure.

“It wasn’t so much about the direct jobs at Burnham, and Burnham wasn’t going to be paying property taxes. What Burnham was going to do was be the magnet and bring in all those pharmaceutical and life-science companies,” said Deputy Orange County Administrator Eric Gassman.

The assets may still have considerable longterm value, but Jacobs also talked about having been burned.

“I’ll be candid with you: Sanford Burnham, we invested a lot in their success. We took a huge risk for their success and our success. As gracious as I’m trying to be about their failure, it was a colossal failure, from an economic standpoint,” she said.

Deborah Robison, Sanford Burnham vice-president of public affairs sent a statement to Florida Politics clarifying the non-profit institute’s position that since 2015 it “has investigated many alternative academic, corporate and clinical strategies, and has been working together with local partners and stakeholders, to identify a solution for the long-term sustainability of biomedical research at the site. That is still our goal.

“We have remained in contact with local and state stakeholders, and deeply appreciate their interest and vision for Central Florida. SBP has identified two credible long-term solutions that would not only sustain but also expand biomedical research at Lake Nona, including a proposal to integrate with the University of Florida, which was not completed, and a substantive plan from Florida Hospital,” she wrote. “Ultimately, a decision on the future of the biomedical research enterprise at Lake Nona ultimately lies in the hands of the state and local stakeholders. During this decision making time-period, SBP is not in the process of shutting down, nor have we announced a closure – medical research is continuing, research grants are being awarded to scientists and important scientific papers are being published in prestigious journals.”

Working with the Moffitt Cancer Center, Florida Hospital, which already has other facilities at Lake Nona and had partnered on research with Sanford Burnham, asked the county and the others to give it the building. In exchange, the hospital company proposed creating a multi-use cancer research and treatment center that would include basic and translational research, precision medicine research, clinical genomics, Phase I clinical research, drug discovery, and a stem-cell laboratory.

Florida Hospital projected 205 jobs, with an average salary of $85,000, by the fifth year of operations.

The proposal emphasized that the UF-Moffitt partners know what they’re doing, and have done their homework, have a proposal that is essentially “shovel ready,” and have the credentials and ability to turn the center into a National Cancer Institutes-designated comprehensive cancer center, of which there is currently only one in Florida: the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

“We believe our plan will achieve not in 20 or 25 years but in the very near future a NCI designated cancer center here, in Florida, in Lake Nona,” said Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Steven Smith.

Yet all of that homework had Jacobs and some of the commissioners questioning whether Sanford Burnham and Florida Hospital had been working together for a while on a deal that might not be in the best interest of the county and other public sectors, which already are feeling burned by Sanford Burnham’s deals. Jacobs in particular peppered Florida Hospital officials about a confidential, non-compete agreement. Ultimately, she got Florida Hospital officials to agree to turn over a copy of that agreement to the county before Orange County would consider Florida Hospital’s proposal.

The University of Central Florida’s proposal is to team up with Hospital Corporation of America and other companies, also to create a multi-use cancer research and treatment center, this one tied in with UCF’s teaching hospital and medical school at Lake Nona. The UCF partners would pay the county $2 million a year in rent to take over the building, and also  promised to pay $11 million the state of Florida says Sanford Burnham owes state taxpayers. Their buildup would be slower than that proposed by Florida Hospital, but bigger, ending after five years with 302 full-time jobs, and some of the partners, notably HCA, would be there on a for-profit basis, paying some taxes.

UCF Board Chairman Marcos Marchena said the university also invested in the Sanford Burnham programs, to the tune of $18 million.

“This comprehensive cancer center will delver a new level of cancer care to our community, expand biomedical eosins at medical city, and create jobs and increase opportunities for medial research. our for-profit partners will also generate revenues for Orange County, both in the form of rent and taxes,” Marchena said.

Gardiner, senior vice president of external affairs and community relations at Orlando Health, asked for the county and others to open to other proposals.

“I would encourage you, I stand here today with not a specific ask, other than, this should be opened up to every not-for-profit in our community,” Gardiner said.

2nd Democrat files in HD 29 to challenge Scott Plakon

Darryl Block, a lawyer and former social worker from Lake Mary, has filed to run in the Florida House District 29 race, the second Democrat to enter seeking to challenge incumbent state Rep. Scott Plakon of Longwood.

Block, 37, a lawyer with Ownby Law who serves as a mediator and was a social worker, pledged to bring a sense of compassion, purpose and optimism to Florida politics. In a news release issued by his campaign, he said he has committed to helping the most vulnerable, including war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and citizens suffering from mental illnesses, individuals Block said he had helped professionally through his work.

“As a social worker, I learned the problems and challenges that people face on a daily basis,” he stated in the release. “I learned that people work very hard to better their lives and the lives of their families.”

Block filed to run late last week. He is the second Democrat in the race, following lawyer Patrick Brandt of Longwood, who joined the field in September. Plakon, owner of a publishing company, is a veteran lawmaker in his second term serving House District 29 who previously served two terms representing House District 37.

Block and his wife Melanie Block have twin children, and they also lost a young son last spring to a rare genetic disorder. That horrible experience had Melanie Block having to temporarily relocate to another state to care for their son, exposing them to the financial hardships that health care can impose on families. In the news release, Darryl Block accused the leadership in Tallahassee of “callously” depriving health care coverage to hundreds of thousands of Floridians by refusing to expand Medicaid. He said Florida’s leaders must seek both short-term and long-term solutions to the growing cost of health care, starting with the expansion of Medicaid.

Florida Democrats hire former Orlando TV journo Caroline Rowland as new comms director

The Florida Democrats have a new communications director — and she is a familiar presence in the all-important Orlando market.

Former Orlando television journalist Caroline Rowland, whose most recent TV stint was at Orlando’s News 13 before moving on to Rep. Val Demings‘ campaign and office, is Chair Terrie Rizzo‘s hire.

“I am excited to announce that Caroline will be joining the Florida Democratic Party as Communications Director,” said Rizzo. “I am confident her enthusiasm for our party, experience with successful Democratic campaigns, and knowledge of the important issues facing working families in Florida will help us to continue to communicate our winning message, and help turn Florida blue in 2018.”

Rowland comes from Demings’ D.C. staff, but her television work was award-winning; she took home an Emmy for her coverage of the Barack Obama inauguration, and also covered the George Zimmerman trial.

Wayne Liebnitzky qualifies by petition for CD 9 race

Republican Wayne Liebnitzky qualified by petition for this year’s ballot in Florida’s 9th Congressional District Monday.

Liebnitzky of St. Cloud is seeking a rematch with Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando. Soto beat him 57-43 in 2016.

On Monday the Florida Secretary of State’s Office posted that it had received 120 valid petition signatures for Liebnitzky from Orange County voters, 525 from Polk County, and 4,441 from Osceola County. That gave him 5,086, 18 more than he needed to qualify.

He said Monday he believes he is the first federal candidate to qualify by petition in Florida for this year’s election.

“I have to admit, I feel so relived,” said Liebnitzky, a small business owner who’s been manning a petition booth at events throughout the district for months.

He said he probably submitted more than 7,000 signatures to the three counties supervisors of elections, adding, “I knew I had them in, but sometimes it takes a week or two to get them counted…. I just hate to procrastinate.”

The next step, Liebnitzky said, was to turn all of the face time he had with voters while gathering the signatures into campaign donations and grassroots supporters. He said he has not begun fundraising yet. Through December his campaign reported it had just over $500 cash.

Another Republican, Sean Alan Buchan, a banker for Winter Haven, briefly entered the fray last spring, but last summer he apparently withdrew, reimbursing all his campaign donors, and Buchan has not filed any reports since June 30. He could not be reached Monday.

Soto, a former state senator serving his first term in Congress, reported fairly modest campaign contributions through October, and had about $220,000 in cash on hand. [His December reports still have not been posted by the Federal Election Commission.] No one else has entered the race, but former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando, who had held the seat for two terms prior to Soto, has been positioning himself for a possible new run.

Rally, march, ‘Take a Knee’ protest planned outside Pro Bowl in Orlando

A community-organized “Take a Knee For Justice” protest is being planned for outside Camping World Stadium next Sunday afternoon to coincide with the singing of the national anthem inside for the 2018 NFL Pro Bowl in Orlando.

The National Action Network Central Florida – with a number of other partner organizations – is planning to hold a rally in front of the Orlando Police Department headquarters shortly before the NFL game begins, with several speakers.

That is to be followed by a march the three blocks down South Street from the police headquarters to Camping World Stadium. There, according to Lawanna Gelzer, president of NAN Central Florida Chapter, protesters plan to take a knee as the national anthem begins inside.

The game is set for a 3 p.m. kickoff.

In a news release, Gelzer said she and other organizers hope the rally will capture “the energy of nationwide protests into a direct call to end police brutality, and to bridge the gap of mistrust between community of colors and law enforcement.” Speakers also expect to cover such topics as racism, gentrification, environmental justice, immigration issues, post-conviction rights, voter suppression and LGBTQ inclusivity, the release said.

The other announced partners include the Fight Back Coalition, the Advocacy, Action & Accountability Alliance, Women of Color Leadership Coalition, Community Empowerment Partnership, and Believers Outreach Ministries, in solidarity with other civic and Civil Rights organizations such as Black Lives Matter, along with the families of victims of excessive force.

Gelzer, a longtime activist and bee in the bonnet of city officials and the Orlando police, said she was “set off” to protest outside the stadium after she watched Orange County, with the city’s blessing, approve deals that provide $3 million in tourist tax money to support the game for two years, while requests for city investments in the east-side neighborhoods around the stadium have not been filled. When asked if the rally, parade, and protest might draw a response from the city, the police, or others, she said, “I sure hope so.”

Phil Moore enters House District 53 race, challenging Randy Fine

Democrat Phil Moore said that, for too long, he has watched with growing concern from his bicycling, running, and kayaking as the environment of the Space Coast and its lagoons and rivers degraded, and as Tallahassee seemed to want to restrict what cities and counties can do.

The 43-year-old athletic trainer and instructor from West Melbourne has filed to run for the Florida House District 53 seat held by Republican incumbent state Rep. Randy Fine of Palm Bay.

A Florida native with a bachelor’s degree from Barry University and a master’s degree from Ohio University, both in athletic training, Moore is hoping to hone a message big on support for Home Rule and for environmental protection, two issues that have become prominent along the Space Coast.

The district covers south Brevard County, including Palm Bay, West Melbourne, Malabar, and parts of Melbourne and Melbourne Beach. It has a reasonably even partisan split, with a slight Republican edge, and a relatively small proportion of independent voters compared with other Central Florida districts.

Moore, a second-generation Floridian, is counting on riding a midterm opposition party wave, and growing resentment against the Florida Legislature pre-empting local controls. However, he’s also dismissing acceptance of any corporate or political action committee money, starting his campaign more than $65,000 behind Fine, and without any seasoned consultants or advisers yet.

Puerto Rico groups pushing for ‘Marshall Plan’ to help the island

Four months after Hurricane Maria laid waste to Puerto Rico, a coalition of groups and artists met in Orlando Monday morning to remind the public that still more than a half-million homes and businesses there still are without electricity, and to declare the island needs a “Marshall Plan” of federal help.

“Today Puerto Rico is facing the longest blackout in the history of the United States,” Marcos Vilar, campaign director for Power4PuertoRico said in a small rally across the street from the Orlando office of Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. “About 500,000 families and businesses still do not have power or electricity. It is unconscionable that we haven’t done more.”

His group led a coalition Monday joined by the Hispanic Federation, Iniciativa Accion Puertoriquena, Women of the Storm and other groups, including the progressive political Democratic group Organize Florida, calling on Congress to adopt more robust relief, with fewer strings, for Puerto Rico to recover from Hurricane Maria.

The groups will be rallying outside Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio‘s office in Miami later this week.

Vilar said the disaster bailout package approved late last month by the U.S. House of Representatives for $91 billion in relief for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, Texas, and California provides the money only for matching grants, and the islands cannot afford to match them right now.

And it’s not enough, considering Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said earlier this month Puerto Rico alone has $94 billion in reconstruction needs.

Betsy Franceschini, Florida director for the Hispanic Federation called for Congress to consider a “Marshall Plan”-like package to assist the islanders, and to aid the Puerto Ricans who evacuated to Florida and elsewhere in the past four months. She said the island has suffered through two major disasters, the economic collapse of 2016, followed by the hurricanes of September 2017.

Teresa Jacobs still undecided on what’s next

Don’t count out Teresa Jacobs quite yet in the 2018 elections cycle.

It’s January, which is getting late, but it’s only January, so it’s not too late in Jacobs’ view of things. Watch for a decision by her soon on whether she’s ready to settle into the private sector and private life again, or whether she’ll be answering the siren call of higher office.

The term-limited Orange County mayor has been a singular fixture in Central Florida politics for most of the past 18 years, a Republican who never had any trouble trouncing opponents in elections, even when Democrats had strong voter registration advantages. Then she drew national notice with her response to the Pulse tragedy in June 2016. And now her term is almost up.

Jacobs made it clear early in 2017 that she had not decided what she wanted to do next, and acknowledged she was contemplating running for another elected office, but would not elaborate. She had been discussed in Republican circles as a possible candidate for offices ranging from Congress to chief financial officer.

A lot has changed in the nine or 10 months since then, but one thing hasn’t changed. Jacobs still has not decided what she wants to do.

“I haven’t made it,” she said Friday. “It’s hard, because, still, 100 percent of my energy every day is in doing what I am doing, and it takes a lot of energy to run a campaign for another office. It’s hard to have the time and energy to think about it.”

That time is running out.

“I’m keenly aware of that,” she said. “The clock is running. Every race I’ve ever run I got in sometime in January or early February, so I’m always the late kid in. But there is not a decision that’s been made.”

Jacobs, 59, of Windermere, a former banker and economist, has run for office four times. In her first campaigns for the Orange County Board of Commissioners, and for Orange County mayor, she won by landslides, beating incumbent Bob Freeman 68-27 for the commissioner’s job, and beating Orange County Commissioner Bill Segal 68-32 for the mayor’s job.

In her re-election efforts, she ran unopposed.

In 2014, former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings filed to run against her, but backed out, saying later it was due to health reasons. Demings had been considered the underdog before she got out. She since has been elected to Congress, in the same district as Jacobs.

Growth, growing pains, projected for Central Florida economy

Florida’s and Orange County’s economies are projected to grow and wages and salaries are likely to start finally climbing, but now the growing pains will start emerging more as well with tighter labor pools and housing shortages.

That was one of the primary messages of Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida Institute for Economic Competitiveness and a longtime unpaid consultant to the county mayor’s office, during Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs 2018 Economic Summit.

Snaith projected continued strong growth particularly for Florida’s and Central Florida’s construction, leisure and hospitality and financial sectors, and said the low unemployment rates seen the past two years, announced Friday statewide at 3.7 percent, and in the Orlando market at 3.3 percent, likely have bottomed out.

The result, he projected, are the pressures on business and the economy of a labor shortage, even with the massive influx in recent months of Puerto Rican migrants, and for people seeking homes amid a housing shortage and increasing housing costs.

“What we haven’t seen yet, this missing piece, is wage and salary growth. We’re on the cusp of that. We’re starting to see hints of it. I think we’ll see it full-scale in 2018,” Snaith said.

Snaith’s address headlined  Jacobs’ annual economic summit, held Friday at the Orange County Convention Center. With several years of economic growth finally raising Orange County’s economy, last year, past pre-recession levels, with the regional unemployment rate having been below 4 percent for much of 2017, and with projections for growth ahead, Jacobs and others were buoyant Friday.

Jacobs said the region was positioned well for continued growth because it had invested in key infrastructure, notably the SunRail train and the new international terminal under construction at Orlando International Airport, but also because it had matured into what she said was a caring, collegial, cooperative community.

“I think that’s what brings us to the forefront of so many people’s minds when they think of job creation,” Jacobs said. “In fact we are one of the top, if not the top regions in the nation in the signs for job growth, and we’ve maintained that position for the last several years.”

But there were also concerns raised, starting with the pressures on Central Florida’s housing market, which already is being described as in shortage, and which Snaith was not projecting to change anytime soon.

There also were discussions about what, if anything, in Central Florida’s economy might have cost Orlando its finalist status in the great Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes, after the company announced Thursday the 20 cities it was considering for a huge new headquarters, and Orlando wasn’t one of them.

Jacobs and Tim Giuliani, president and chief executive officer of the Orlando Economic Partnership, said they had no clear indication why Orlando’s bid fell short for Amazon, and that they felt good about the proposal.

“It was what they were looking for,” Giuliani said.

Jacobs noted the recent victories for the region, including last year’s announcement by Lockheed Martin that it would expand its missile and fire control division in Orlando, bringing 500 new high-wage jobs and a $200 million capital investment; and KPMG’s new 55-acre national training center with a $430 million capital investment and 80 new high-wage jobs.

“There are two parts of it. It’s the infrastructure. It’s the bricks and mortar. It’s the transit. It’s the incubator programs. But then there’s the intangible, that spirit of being in this together as a community, being part of a family…  That’s a cultural change that we’ve seen in the last 20 years that I think probably the most appealing asset we have when we promote ourselves economically,” Jacobs said.

“When you talk about how we get Apple here? You talk about how we get companies here? The cultural environment matters. You don’t want to work where you don’t want to live,” she said.

Lauren Baer, Anna Eskamani make cover of TIME magazine, ‘The Avengers’

Democratic Congressional Candidate Lauren Baer and Florida House candidate Anna Eskamani are two of 48 first-time women candidates for public office who are being featured on this week’s cover of TIME magazine, with an article declaring them to be “The Avengers.”

The cover features women political candidates whom TIME portrays as representing the current women’s empowerment movement, which came to the fore last year with marches, and now continues with runs, for office.

The women, the article by Charlotte Alter proclaims, are “part of a grassroots movement that could change America.”

Among the women featured on the TIME magazine cover, Baer is in the fourth row from the top, the fifth woman over from the left, nearly front and center, a spot that makes her face almost most prominent on the cover.

A former advisor to President Barack Obama, the Palm Beach Gardens candidate is in a Democratic primary battle with Pam Keith, also of Palm Beach Gardens, hoping to take on Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City in the fall.

Eskamani is pictured in the bottom row, the second from the right.

The Planned Parenthood executive from Orlando faces Republican Stockton Reeves of Winter Park in the House District 47 contest this year, seeking to succeed Republican state Rep. Mike Miller.

“Call it payback, call it a revolution, call it the Pink Wave, inspired by marchers in their magenta hats, and the activism that followed,” Alter writes. “There is an unprecedented surge of first-time female candidates, overwhelmingly Democratic, running for offices big and small, from the U.S. Senate and state legislatures to local school boards.”

Neither Baer nor Eskamani is mentioned or quoted in the article.

“I’m thrilled to see the media paying attention to the many remarkable women running for office this year,” Baer said in a written statement. “But this movement is not about us; it’s about the communities we are working to represent. For too long, women’s voices and interests have been underrepresented in politics. As a woman, a mother, and a member of the LGBT community, I am proud to be standing up and fighting for those in our community who have been marginalized and excluded. When Congress represents the diversity of America, we all benefit.”

Eskamani, as someone who helped plan and organize the women’s march in Orlando last year, and who’s also involved in this Sunday’s women’s march in Orlando, said she proudly counts herself as part of the wave Alter described. Yet Eskamani said her candidacy, and, if she wins, her victory, is more about the community seeking change, and that voters are “excited to have a home-grown, local community leader and advocate serve in the Legislature.”

Eskamani said she did not know she was going to be on the cover, or whether or how she might be featured in the article. She said the magazine had called her and asked for a picture. The next thing she knew was Thursday morning, when she started getting calls and texts from people after the edition was released.

“I am so honored, so honored; I never even imagined I’d run for office, let alone be on the cover of TIME magazine. It’s incredibly humbling and exciting,” she said.

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