Moffitt project heads to vote

Published February 17, 2007

TAMPA - An expansion plan for Moffitt Cancer Center calling for $28-million from county taxpayers goes to Hillsborough commissioners Wednesday, with assurances meant to address one of their chief reservations.

The agreement would not bind commissioners to support any future expansions of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute. It commits them only to extend their "best efforts" at assisting Moffitt in the future.

Commissioners had been reluctant to supporting the first phase of expansion, fearing that could obligate them to pay much larger subsidies for a yet-to-be-unveiled second phase.

"We have made a commitment to help them when we can," said Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean. "I think Moffitt is fine with that and I hope our board will be."

Terms of the deal were hashed out through weeks of intense negotiations between top members of the county staff and Moffitt representatives. A Moffitt spokeswoman expressed hope that commissioners find it acceptable.

"This is a big deal for us and we're anxious to move forward," said Michelle Foley.

Commissioners can accept the agreement Wednesday, reject it or seek to modify its terms through negotiations. Their approval is not certain.

Moffitt announced late last year it was launching a joint venture with Merck & Co. Inc. to form a for-profit subsidiary of the cancer center. The subsidiary, called M2Gen, would seek ways to better tailor cancer treatment to individual patients based on the distinct characteristics of their tumors.

As part of the deal, the state would pledge $15-million on top of the county's commitment. The city of Tampa would chip in $800,000 in cash, plus $1.2-million worth of land. Merck is pledging to invest nearly $100-million in M2Gen.

Moffitt has said the venture will create 165 new jobs paying an average $80,000.

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