HCC approves 1st step on Cancer Center by Mitch E. Perry

WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday

The Hillsborough County Commission today unanimously approved a package of financial incentives that could bring to Tampa a new for profit cancer center.   But criticisms of the City of Tampa’s financial contributions to the project made the vote one of the more divisive 7-0 decisions in recent County history.


The project, called M2Gen, is a joint project with the Moffitt Cancer Center and the drug company Merck.  It’s being touted by  its supporters as being a boost not only to the local economy, but as potentially revolutionary in what it might mean for treating cancer patients. 


Hillsborough County officials also say it will be a winner for the community.  Gene Gray with the Hillsborough County Economic Development Department said the center would bring 108 jobs to the area, at an average salary of $80,000.  (roll tape#2 o.q.”history of this state”)


The total cost of the project is estimated at over $145 million dollars, with the majority, or $95 million dollars, being spent by Merck.  The State is expected to approve $15 million dollars for a vote on the project on Thursday – but that was contingent on the County approving its share of the plan – which is $20 million dollars in cash, and 7 and a half million in land.


With the Commission vote so crucial then, Moffitt and Merck put on their best presentation.  They brought forward to address Commissioners a recent cancer patient and cancer advocate, Katie McLaughlin (roll tape#3 o.q.”funded like a war”)


The M2Gen project has been spearheaded by Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who has been the point man on bringing the project together for the County. 


Calling the project a wise investment, Sharpe quoted statistics out of Business Week magazine in advocating that the health care industry is where the jobs of the future will be. (roll tape#4 o.q.”netted out zero”)


And Sharpe urged his colleagues to refrain from worrying about the City’s contribution to the project, and instead focus on the bigger picture (roll tape#5 o.q.”this is it”)


But Commission Chair Jim Norman expressed disgust with the City of Tampa’s contributions to the project.  Mayor Pam Iorio has offered $800,000 in cash, and over a million dollars in land.


In the past few weeks, Norman and other County officials have spoken with the Mayor to try to have the City to raise its contributions, but to no avail.   Norman’s frustrations were obvious (roll tape #6 o.q.”I put the whole tree”) 


Norman and other County officials wanted Tampa to contribute at least $7 million to the project, and said to make it more acceptable to Mayor Iorio, suggested that the city could pay back that money over 10 years, and delaying the first payment until 5 years after the project began.


Then County Commissioner Brian Blair bitterly called out the local media and Tampa officials   (roll tape#7 o.q.”was 2nd fiddle”)


But despite those comments, the Commissions did vote unanimously in support of the project.  But not before they rejected an Amendment  proposed by Norman that would ask that the City of Tampa participate with the County on 2/3rds 1/3rd split as the M2Gen project goes forward.


That proposal was rejected by 4 Commissioners who did not want to demand that the City of Tampa provide a finite amount.  Before that vote, Commissioner Rose Ferlita admonished Norman that the County’s vote should stand alone, and need not include with the City of Tampa could or could not do financially (roll tape#8 o.q.”directed to you”)


The Board DID vote on sending a subsequent letter to Mayor Iorio, but without any demands on what their financial contribution should be towards M2Gen in the future.  

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