City to give more cash and land to cancer venture

It still may not satisfy the county, which is asked to give even more than Tampa.

Published February 2, 2007

TAMPA - Mayor Pam Iorio said the city will sweeten its contribution toward landing a new cancer research venture near the University of South Florida to help allay concerns by county leaders who would contribute far more.

Iorio said Thursday the city of Tampa will increase the amount of cash it would give to a planned collaboration between the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute and Merck & Co. Inc. to $800,000, spread over 10 years. The city had previously pledged $500,000, spread over a shorter period, toward establishing the new Moffitt subsidy, being called M2Gen.

Additionally, the city now also would contribute another 5 to 6 acres adjacent to land near USF being considered as the home of M2Gen. Iorio said the value of the city-owned land, a tract off McKinley Drive currently used for drainage purposes, is estimated at $1.2-million.

"I give the county two thumbs up for all their efforts here," Iorio said, adding that she approved increasing the city share "to help make the deal happen."

Under terms of the proposal, Hillsborough County is being asked to contribute up to $28-million in subsidies for the project, though commissioners have raised concerns about the disparity between city and county contributions. The state would provide another $15-million in subsidies.

Merck has told state officials that it will invest nearly $100-million into M2Gen in return for exclusive access to possible treatment regimens revealed by its research.

In return, Moffitt is pledging to create 165 new jobs paying an average of $80,000 annually and has identified as many as a half-dozen other companies that have expressed interest in locating near M2Gen, bringing additional jobs.

County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who has been a champion of trying to lure bioscience companies to Hillsborough, applauded the city for offering more support. He expressed hope that it would be enough to win other commissioners' backing of what would be their largest economic development subsidy for a company that is not a professional sports team.

"I think it's a good best effort by the city on this opportunity," Sharpe said. "And there will be other opportunities as well to do great things for the county, state and for cancer research."

Moffitt and Merck are proposing to build a 50,000-square-foot research and cancer treatment center on 25 to 30 acres. M2Gen will study ways to tailor cancer treatment to patients based on the genetic makeup of their tumors.

Some county commissioners have expressed concern about the unknown details of an expected second phase of the project that they anticipate will be much larger and costlier.

A state senator also has raised concerns about the unknowns of the project.

Asked Thursday if the city's announcement eases his reservations, Commission Chairman Jim Norman said he hadn't had time to think much about it.

"If I had a gut feeling, I don't think this board of commissioners would think that's enough," Norman said.

Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.