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Campus # 8?


Harbor Branch open to buyout
ERIC HASERT [email protected]

[email protected]
August 9, 2006

FORT PIERCE ? Members of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution's board of directors on Tuesday said they will give their "full attention" to a proposal calling for the state to buy the research institution's 520-acre campus.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Ken Pruitt ? who, along with Florida Atlantic University President Frank Brogan, sent a letter of interest to the board chairman on Monday ? said he already had begun researching funding sources to protect about 260 acres of environmentally sensitive land and keep condominiums and businesses off the campus.

Pruitt's opposition to a plan by Jacoby Development to build on Harbor Branch's land will weigh heavily in the discussions by the 13-member board later this month, board members said.
"He's one of the most highly respected men in the state, and along with the former state lieutenant governor and president of FAU having the same feelings, that's strong," said Dan Richey, a board member and CEO of Riverfront Packing Company in Vero Beach.

"Clearly, Harbor Branch is a large asset to the community. I would prefer not to see residential use on that land."

St. Lucie County real estate agents surveyed Tuesday would not speculate on the market value of the 520-acre campus, located along the Indian River Lagoon and next to a deep-water port with bulkhead frontage.

It is assessed by the St. Lucie County Property Appraiser's Office at $36 million, but the market value is likely much higher.

Pruitt and Brogan's plan for the campus would use money from the state university system and land preservation funds to buy Harbor Branch and make it a new FAU campus.

On Tuesday, Pruitt, the incoming state Senate president, promised that lawmakers would be able to find money to stop residential and commercial development on Harbor Branch land.

"No matter how much it costs and what it will entail, we'll find the partnerships and funding that's necessary," he said. "It's absolutely feasible, absolutely doable. It is an incredible investment that will pay huge dividends later on."

John Byrne, president emeritus of Oregon State University and a Harbor Branch board member, said the state's involvement could provide the financial support needed by the institution, which has a $6 million budget shortfall.

"Being part of the state system of higher education in Florida provides a certain stability," he said. "(But) Harbor Branch has been an independent organization since the very beginning. Once you're part of FAU, you're no longer independent."

In a written statement, board Chairman Paul Yost added the proposal would be "given full attention and consideration" during the board meeting Aug. 28.

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