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Crist losing support on choice of Alzheimer's center location

House Speaker Johnnie Byrd and a key panel disagree with the Tampa lawmaker.

Published November 8, 2003

TAMPA - House Speaker Johnnie Byrd made it crystal clear this week that he wants a major Alzheimer's center on the University of South Florida campus.

"The Alzheimer's institute is a research institute like Moffitt Cancer (H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Center)," Byrd said in an interview. "It should be done on the USF campus where the scientists can have their collaborative synergy."

The statements disappointed State Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, who is pushing a site in the impoverished University North area near the campus.

But the Plant City Republican has shown little enthusiasm for the idea since Crist first proposed an off-campus site 10 months ago.

Byrd, who is running in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, said the new Alzheimer's Center and Research Institute would get a stronger start by operating beside facilities already doing Alzheimer's research. He wants to name the center after his father, who died of Alzheimer's disease in 1998.

Crist is proposing a site south of Fletcher Avenue on Livingston Avenue, across from the Wal-Mart. The location offers more land and access to major tax and grant breaks because it is part of a federal empowerment zone.

But Crist's options are diminishing. This week, the center's building committee made two key decisions that severely hurt Crist's chances before next week's meeting of the full board of directors.

On Monday, the committee reviewed proposed designs, committee chairman and USF trustee Steven Burton said.

The board will vote on the recommendation next Wednesday, he said.

The building committee Wednesday also picked a construction management firm to recommend at the same board meeting, Burton said.

Crist is increasingly frustrated with his lack of access to board members, including Byrd. He also said the center has been unwilling to release basic information about the proposed facility, such as square-footage, the number of floors and the amount of land needed now and in the future.

While calling himself a strong supporter of Alzheimer's research and the center, he sees an opportunity to pump tens of millions of dollars into the poorest neighborhood in Hillsborough County.

"We haven't been able to get anything out of them," Crist said Friday.

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