The Palm Beach County Commission this week took the necessary first step in relieving taxpayers of the ongoing burden known as Mecca Farms. A deal to trade the property for $30 million and 1,400 acres of land was tentatively approved Tuesday, with most in agreement that it was time to cut the county’s losses and move forward.
In 2004, the county purchased the property, located north of The Acreage, for $60 million with the intention of having it serve as the home to Scripps Florida’s planned biotech complex. But concerns from environmentalists resulted in Scripps choosing Jupiter for its location and the county left with a $60 million white elephant. In addition to the initial cost, the county also spent millions of dollars on infrastructure improvements. Since then, it is estimated that the property costs $250,000 a year to secure and maintain, with millions more in debt service payments for years to come.
From an economic and business perspective with the goal of creating the greater Acreage area as having its own economic base, we supported Scripps at this location years ago. This was, in our opinion, a good place for Scripps because it could have been of extreme benefit to the western communities. However, that’s not going to happen. It hasn’t been within the realm of possibility for more than five years now. Scripps Florida is happily based in Jupiter.
There are people who do not like the fact that the county paid $60 million for this land and is selling it for $30 million. What they’re overlooking is that the county paid $60 million at the height of the real estate boom. If we wait for it to be worth $60 million again, well, that could take decades if it ever happens at all. The fact remains that this is well more than the county was ever expecting to get for the land a few years ago; it solves a number of technical problems regarding Everglades restoration and the restoration of the Loxahatchee River; it gets the money to pay off a large share of the debt on the property; and it gets the county other parcels of land that the taxpayers will get some kind of income from, and that land itself has value and perhaps can be sold in the future.
Ideally, we would have loved for Mecca Farms by now to be a bustling biotech campus bringing jobs and economic growth to the western communities. But that was not to be. At this point, we need to move on and get this boondoggle off our backs. We need to end this chapter and begin a new one, and this deal with the South Florida Water Management District ends the chapter with numerous positives.