Thursday, December 16, 2010

Shoot Out at the Elk River Corral 

or Show Us the Money

My favorite biotech journalist, Thomas Lee, has stirred the pot again by telling another  inconvenient truth. This offends some in the community. In this particular case they are the Elk River Gang, who seem to prefer homers to journalists. For another example of this kind of behavior, see the Morrill Hall Gang.

Elk Run developer CEO gets medieval on MedCity News

When you’re the president and CEO of a major national real estate development firm, it’s best to develop a thick skin. It’s also probably not a good idea to post public comments to a news website when you’re [annoyed] at 1 o’clock in the morning.

Yet that’s exactly what Steve Marks, CEO of Tower Investments in California did upon reading my story Tuesday on the troubled Elk Run BioBusiness Park his company is developing in Pine Island, Minnesota.

I could summarize them. But instead, read his rant in all of its uncensored (not to mention grammatically incorrect and misspelled) glory:
I am president and ceo of Tower Investments. An incredible amount time, money and professional expertise has been spent on this project. We have massive support from public officials – why, because they see the tremendous addition to the community with a bio-tech park in their community. Yes, timetables have been delayed and Tower has been under serious confidentiality agreements with prospective users and tenants. if you believe that there are not seriously interested parties to be part of a new bio-tech park 12 miles from Mayo and less than an hour to Uof Minn, you are badly mistaken. This is a multi-year project. The support from the constituients and stakeholders has been overwealming. Frankly, if the public listened to your negative reports, there would be no growth in SW Minnesota along the line of bio-tech, a very strong field. We have continuous meetings with top experts in the field, and the stars must align, size, type space, financing, timing and negotiations over the past 3-4 years in Elk Run. It is my expectation that, unless your goal is roadblocks so you can “i told you so”, why you try to try to support a potential bio-tech park with prospectively several thousand workers over time, then if i were you i would try to help the project, not sandbag it with untrue facts and toal speculation on your part. Join our groups of hundreds that are enthousiastic about the future, In a perfect world, we have the precise space of Stanford Research Park in Palo Alto, which took years to develop. Rather than try to tear Elk Run down (which accomplishes nothing for the citizens), whi don’t you take a common courtesy approach to the hard working developers and stakeholders that have worked tirelessly for several years, and give the some slack.
Actually, upon further review, that’s a pretty coherent and reasonable comment. The same cannot be said for the next one:
if you think we are neophites trying to create something out of nothing, i suggest you review our websites: and burrill company. burrill is worldrenowned and we are extremely fortunately that he has taken a serious likeing to this project. Burrill travels worldwide continually, just returning from the middle east, russia and south Korea – you check his bio before you throw him under the bus in your narrative. Don’t pass us off as lightweights with no credibility. So it takes longer to get a biotech park right, so be it, would you prefer to run Elk Run off and go back to corn fields? Have you ever funded and managed such an endeaver. You have embarassed us both by your article. This is ludicrous and i feel you owe Steve Marks and Steve Brurrill an apology. This project may or may not succeed, but wih the team and support in place, it is likely to succeed, which is going to make you look like an ass.
Hmmm. Where to start? I guess I should say that plenty of people already think that I’m an ass.
But that’s besides the point. Let me offer my response to Marks:
  1. Elk Run is in southeast Minnesota, not southwest. If you’re going to defend your project, at least know where the darn thing is.
  2. Don’t refer to yourself in the third person. Only Lebron James can do that.
  3. Tower and Steve Burrill may have a long and impressive resume. But they have absolutely NO experience in developing a biotech research park, never mind one in a rural community. It’s also worth noting that Tower’s original plans for Elk Run did not include a biotech park. That came once the state offered nearly $2 million in infrastructure improvements.
  4. Corn fields at least grow corn. A bunch of dug up dirt and empty shells of buildings don’t do anything.
  5. Use your public relations firm. That’s what you pay them for. And if you don’t have one, hire someone fast, preferably someone on retainer at 1 o’clock in the morning.
  6. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. You don’t get an “A” for effort. Marks (and Burrill, for that matter) seem to believe that we should “cut them some slack” because they are trying to do something in Minnesota. But if we demand accountability from elected officials, shouldn’t we expect the same from out-of-town, for-profit real estate developers who are benefiting from millions of dollars in federal and state aid? 
One more point. If Marks thinks that I’m the only one in Minnesota who’s skeptical of Elk Run, then he should think again.

From the comments:
Mr. Burill promised a billion bucks in 2009 – the economy was already in the crapper. He later promised an inked deal with a soverieng wealth fund by this fall and then retracted. Mayo and the U of M already have infrastructure in Rochester funded largely by tax payers and few tenants – not biotech. Or are you suggesting some other infrastructure is needed? Since a recent white paper by the Biobusiness Alliance of MN says the state has 36 biotech incubators, it seems like there ought to be infrastructure available. The tax payer funded University Enterprise Laboratories in St. Paul failed in part because it was “too far” from the U of M, according to Peter Bianco. I’m tired of this (ab)use of my tax money.
Boy is this entertaining. Me thinks some doth protest too much.

Tom, Well done on both articles. Regarding the first, Can God Save Elk Run? The project already has a shaman: With regard to the alleged facts that Mr. Algadi says you failed to report. Is Mr. Algadi referring to the wild horse debacle? More retail space than the Mall of America? More lab and office space than two IDS Towers? Or is he referring to the two buildings full of tenants, which they testified (to the Legislature) already existed in March of 2009? Perhaps Mr. Algadi is upset that you failed to mention BBAM’s report to DEED stating that there was financing AND a building already under construction in December of 2009. Or did you miss the three quarter of a million dollar payment of federal tax money indemnifying Tower for the elk herd they may or may not have purchased. The CUP on file in Olmsted County allowed the Hoehne’s to have 100 elk on the property and yet they somehow snuck an additional 500, 600, 700 or 900 animals onto the property. The numbers on the animals are as hard to pin down as the truth about what is going on with this project. It’s hard to know which “fact” Mr. Algadi is upset about since asking questions about the project, any questions at all, causes him to become enraged and to throw out accusations of “sabotage” and opposition to progress. On one occasion Mr. Algadi asked if I would prefer to have my tax money spent here or on “propping up a puppet regime like Israel.” I don’t know how he got from biotech to Israel, but I must say that at this point Israel is looking better and better.
 This project is absurd.  The Emperor has no clothes.  University Enterprised Laboratory (UEL) was a failure and this project in the middle of nowhere will also fail.  It is time to stop milking the taxpayers.  I have my doubts about the tech park in the backyard of the U of M, but at least it is in the right location.

Location, location, location?  Anyone ever heard of that?

This is also why the UMore Park development is a farce and is really only an excuse for the U to proceed with gravel mining operations. 

And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut used to say. 

Oh, and keep up the good work, Thomas.  The right people are mad at you.

No comments: