June 27, 2008

Veto Hampers UM’s Plan

By Gary Fineout, The Miami Herald

Jun. 27--TALLAHASSEE -- An ambitious attempt by the University of Miami to create a new research hub was dealt a blow by Gov. Charlie Crist, who this week vetoed a bill that would have allowed the university to speed up approval of the project.

The veto means that UM must undergo a lengthy state and regional review to get approval for a proposed life science park on nearly eight acres between Jackson Memorial Hospital and Interstate 95. The university wants to create an "iconic" research park that would attract biotech companies eager to collaborate with the university, which has started a new genetics research institute.

Siding with critics who called the legislation too developer-friendly, Crist said he was concerned the measure would place the burden for new large developments on the public, not developers.

Acknowledging that some of the bill's provisions promote biotech research development, Crist's veto message noted that: "However, this bill also includes provisions that affect our ability to create the well-planned communities that provide the foundation for a robust economy and maintain the quality of life every Floridian deserves."


University officials, who had hoped to break ground on the research park by the summer of 2009, said they were "extremely disappointed" but will push ahead with the park, which they say will create thousands of construction jobs. The park will provide office and laboratory space for companies that collaborate with UM researchers, making it easier to turn scientific discoveries into commercial products. At 1.4 million square feet, it would be about the same size as the Dolphin Mall in West Miami-Dade.

"We look forward to working with the governor and the governor's office in any way that we can to expedite the project," said Dr. Bart Chernow, vice provost for technology advancement and vice president for special programs and resource strategy.

"This is a project that contributes to the greater good," said Chernow. "We intend to build a life science park that will create many, many jobs. . . . It will help advance technology, it will create a tremendous increase in the economy of Miami-Dade."

Sen. Gwen Margolis, an Aventura Democrat, pushed the bill primarily to help out UM. The legislation initially exempted from state and regional planning review any construction project located in a large urban county that dealt with medical research, or biotechnology.

But in the waning hours of the 2008 session, the bill was changed to give other large-scale developments across the state, including shopping centers, an additional three years to complete construction. Currently, many large developments have "build-out" dates that mandate when construction must be finished.


That portion of the bill drew flak from environmental groups and local governments as well as the state Department of Community Affairs, which said the change could greatly add to traffic congestion around the state.

Margolis said she was not surprised that Crist decided to kill her bill.

"It was amended by so many people, I barely recognized it when it was over," said Margolis. "It's a shame for the University of Miami, but I really understand."

Herald staff writer Scott Andron contributed to this report.


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