CHRIS KATTERJOHN Commentary: Avoid Florida-like snags on stadium

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NAPLES, Fla.-As I entered the state of Florida yesterday, I remembered that just about a year ago I was at a meeting in South Miami where Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was holding court on economic development efforts. His pride and joy was a deal to bring the Scripps Research Institute to Palm Beach County on the state’s east coast.

I wrote a column about it in our Feb. 9, 2004, issue.

Bush and his team had lured the highly regarded bioresearch organization to the state to build a major research campus that would mean thousands of jobs and the spawning of multiple new life sciences companies because of SRI’s presence.

It was a major coup.

With a dozen buildings at its headquarters in La Jolla, Calif., SRI gets more National Institute of Health grants than any research organization in the country. It has done ground-breaking research on multiple diseases, including leukemia, ovarian cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s and AIDS.

Florida Trend magazine reported that the South Florida satellite campus of SRI would bring 6,500 high-wage jobs over a 15-year period, adding $3.2 billion to Florida’s gross domestic product. The state and county promised hundreds of millions of dollars to make it all happen.

The project, which was supposed to have broken ground this month, is now bogged down in an environmental controversy. Its proposed 1,900-acre site is surrounded by environmentally sensitive areas that will be compromised should the campus go forward as planned. A handful of green groups has filed a lawsuit.

While the land in question is now in the county’s hands, government and Scripps officials are reluctant to proceed with the suit pending. In addition, the environmental groups are making lots of noise that’s getting intense media coverage. Further exacerbating the situation is that Florida’s business community, which stands to gain the most from the project, has been strangely quiet.

I wonder why nobody saw this problem coming.

Meanwhile, another high-profile, much-ballyhooed project in the Sunshine State is also looking a bit wobbly, that being the $8 billion restoration of Florida’s Everglades. The coalition of state and federal governments, environmental interests and the sugar industry that forged the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is now showing some cracks. Turf battles have prompted a spate of publicity questioning the project’s stability.

Most well-positioned Floridians who are either involved in or are watching these projects still believe both will happen, albeit more slowly than anticipated. But the tremors of discontent and dissonance that followed their glorious, prideful announcements have taken some of the bloom off the rose.

All of which leads me to ponder central Indiana’s pending major project-the expansion of the Indiana Convention Center and the construction of a new stadium for the Indianapolis Colts. We can’t let such an important project get derailed by lack of preparation or cooperation, or by infighting.

The lessons learned from Florida are these:

Make sure to the best of your ability that all your ducks are in a row before you make a big splash about projects of this magnitude. I hope the city has done its homework in laying groundwork for the stadium/convention center project.

The only real issue seems to be how we’re going to pay for it.

Projects that must satisfy a number of diverse constituencies aren’t easy to take from the announcement stage to reality. Be prepared to negotiate.

As the 2005 General Assembly convenes to debate the issue of financing the convention center expansion and stadium, let’s hope everybody’s willing to play give and take.

Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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