PORT ST. LUCIE — The Florida Board of Governors approved Florida International University’s merger with Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies but not before chastising the university for not properly communicating its plans with Florida Atlantic University.
The merger, approved Thursday in Tallahassee, is expected to close by March 1.
The Board of Governors required FIU to submit a report to the board on how it plans to collaborate with FAU at the specialized research center, now known as Torrey Pines at FIU.
“We have long had a kind of understanding that when one university will be taking programs into the general area of another university that we expect the two (university) presidents to have an open conversation about that, and we didn’t quite get there this time,” board member Norman Tripp said.
FIU plans to conduct research in the fields of brain cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, Parkinson’s disease and other memory disorders at the four-story, 102,887-square-foot facility at 11350 S.W. Village Parkway in the Tradition Center for Innovation.
FIU has been leasing space at Torrey Pines for the past three years.
Board of Governors member Wayne Huizenga Jr questioned the impact the merger would have on research at FAU because the Torrey Pines campus is between FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in northern St. Lucie County and its Jupiter campus in north Palm Beach County.
“I just want to make sure everybody is playing nice together,” Huizenga said.
Torrey Pines, prior to 2015, had asked FAU to merge, but FAU declined saying, “We didn’t have the financial means to make it work,” FAU president John Kelly told the board.
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Now, Torrey Pines' merger with FIU is expected to be completed by March 1, with building improvements starting June 30, FIU officials told the board. FIU plans to complete faculty hiring by Aug. 31, university records state.
FIU estimates it will spend about $5 million over a decade to address deferred- maintenance on the Torrey Pines building such as a ventilation system, roofing, doors and exterior paint, according to university records.
FIU plans to increase the number of research teams at Torrey Pines from four to 18 within three years and hopes to increase grant funding from $2.2 million annually to $18 million.
The merger brings to fruition the city’s 12-year plan of creating a biotech cluster.Neighboring Cleveland Clinic is leasing the former Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute of Florida building — also from the city — where it plans to partner with FIU on research.
In 2007, Port St. Lucie borrowed about $70 million, mortgaging its City Hall complex, to pay for building Torrey Pines' specialized research laboratory.
Torrey Pines in 2014 faced tough financial problems when it saw a 25% decrease in grant funding from the National Institutes of Health and later that year asked the city for financial help.
The city still owns the property and has leased it to Torrey Pines for $10 a year. FIU will assume that obligation.
The city will remain responsible for its debt on Torrey Pines, and will use impact fees — fees charged for new construction — to pay it down.
“Everything is starting to come together, and we have created a hub for research sciences,” City Councilman John Carvelli said. “My guess is there will be more to come after this.”
Keona Gardner covers the cities of Port St. Lucie and Fort Pierce and St. Lucie County. If you like articles like this and want more local-news coverage from TCPalm, please subscribe. Click here to begin your digital subscription.