Moffitt to add Pasco campus?

A proposal by Moffitt Cancer Center to boost its share of the state’s annual cigarette tax money would support expanded cancer care and research, both in Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

The new location in Pasco County would be near the Suncoast Parkway and State Road 52, and is being viewed by local leaders as having the potential to be a catalyst that would transform the Central Pasco landscape.

Moffitt is asking for an increase to its current share of 4% up to 10%, with the increases coming in two phases.

Moffitt Cancer Center is seeking an additional share of state cigarette tax revenues, to support the project depicted here that would be built in Hillsborough County, and a new facility in Central Pasco County. (Courtesy of Moffitt Cancer Center)

The first phase would increase Moffitt’s share of the tax from 4%, up to 7%, which would generate $11 million in additional annual revenue, said Yvette Tremonti, executive vice president chief finance and administrative officer for Moffitt Cancer Center.

The second increase would boost Moffitt’s share from 7%, up to 10%. That increase also would generate an additional $11 million in annual revenue for Moffitt.

The first increase would take effect in 2020, and the second one would take effect in 2023. Both would last until 2053, Tremonti said.

The primary driver for the request is Moffitt’s need for additional space for both clinical care and research.

Moffitt is currently operating at or near capacity for both clinical and research purposes.

“We have patients that receive a cancer diagnosis that aren’t able to get into Moffitt, as timely as they need to be,” Tremonti said.

Revenues generated from the first increase would be used for a new clinical and research facility in Hillsborough County, with the goal to start that in July 2020, Tremonti said.

That project has been designed in two phases.

Moffitt will be spending about $332 million on phase one; and the increase in the cigarette tax would allow it to build out phase two, she said.

Revenues generated from the additional increase in Moffitt’s share of the tobacco tax funds would go for a clinical and research facility in Pasco County, Tremonti said.

That project is intended to meet future demand for cancer therapies and to create a research park. The goal would be to start that in July 2023, the Moffitt executive said.

Regardless of what happens with its request, Moffitt plans to pursue the new clinical and research facility in Hillsborough County, Tremonti said.

If Moffitt doesn’t receive its request to boost its share of the tobacco tax revenues up to 7%, it would not be able to build out phase two of its Hillsborough plan.

And, if the increased funding from 7% up to 10% did not happen, Moffitt would have to delay its expansion into Pasco County, Tremonti said.

Because of its research and the novel treatments it has developed, Moffitt serves patients from all of Florida’s 67 counties, from all 50 states and from other countries, too, Tremonti said.

Moffitt is ranked one of the Top 10 cancer hospitals in America and best in the Southeast.

Pasco County is attractive because of the area’s tremendous growth, Tremonti said.

The site’s proximity to the Suncoast Parkway and Tampa International Airport are pluses, too, she said.

Moffitt’s proposal is drawing a positive response from elected leaders and local officials.

State Sen. Ed Hooper, a Republican representing District 16, which includes a portion of Pasco County, said Moffitt’s request is “not an inappropriate ask.”

He’s not sure whether the Legislature will support Moffitt’s full request, but he said he would.

“I’m just a fan of Moffitt Cancer Center, and I want them to be able to have the tools necessary to be successful to find a cure for a variety of cancers,” Hooper said. “Cigarette revenue is the most appropriate of all funding sources, as a known cancer causer. How better to use that money to find a solution to that disease?”

Rep. Amber Mariano, a Republican representing District 36, also supports Moffitt’s request.

“I think it makes total sense,” Mariano said, especially using cigarette tax “to treat the disease those products create.”

She said Moffitt’s new campus in Pasco would be transformative.

“It’s going to open up that whole area,” Mariano said. “They’ll be able to bring in more companies, health care, startups.

“With the growth that we’ve already got going on, it’s just the perfect fit,” she said. “I couldn’t be more thrilled that they’re coming.”

Bill Cronin, president and CEO of Pasco Economic Development Council Inc., said the proximity to Tampa International Airport makes it a “wonderful ‘fly-to’ site for businesses all over America, as well as international clients and partners to visit their campus facility.”

Besides attracting additional companies to locate near them, Moffitt also can be a magnet for talent, said Cronin, via email.

State Rep. Randy Maggard, a Republican representing District 38, characterized Moffitt as “a great research institution” and said it “wants to bring jobs to Pasco.”

But, he said he needs more information before taking a position on the request.

“I’ve just got to really dive into it and just take a look at it, and make sure that this is good for the citizens of Pasco. That’s the bottom line, at the end of the day,” Maggard said.

Pasco County Administrator Dan Biles said a new Moffitt campus in Central Pasco could have a profound impact.

“You hear the term ‘game changer’ a lot and it seems that, over the last decade, it seems to be overused,” he said. However, he added: “I don’t have another word to replace that.”

This is the kind of project, Biles said, that 50 years from now when people living elsewhere hear the name Pasco County, they’re going to think: “That’s where the Moffitt Research Center is.”

Published September 25, 2019

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