Harcourt Brace Jovanovich to Sell Florida Marine Lab
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ A developer who is buying a marine laboratory in the Florida Keys from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc. says he plans to build a resort but also hopes to preserve the research facility.
Henk Mastenbroek, who has developed several time-share vacation properties in the Keys, agreed to pay $700,000 for the 7 1/2 -acre Sea World Marine Science and Conservation Center, the only operating facility of its kind in the country. An official at the Florida Institute of Oceanography said the marine laboratory was unique because of its access to tropical waters.
The lab is being sold by the book publishing company Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., which has been under pressure to sell real estate and other assets to repay creditors after fending off a hostile takeover bid last year. The marine lab was used to collect sharks and tropical fish for HBJ’s Sea World theme parks.
The company had agreed to sell the laboratory to the Florida Institute of Oceanography, an arm of the state university system, but the deal fell through when the HBJ realized there was no guarantee that the Legislature would allocate money for the purchase, said Jim Harris, senior vice president of HBJ Land Co.
Mastenbroek agreed to pay the same price the state would have paid. He said although he planned to build a resort on the site, he hoped he could maintain the lab, built in 1978, The Orlando Sentinel reported in Saturday’s editions.
An administrator at the Institute of Oceanography said she doubted that the marine laboratory would remain intact.
″Our problem is they (the developers) keep saying they have to make money out of it, which isn’t too likely,″ Sandra Vargo, a project coordinator at the institute. ″I’ve seen too many research facilities and they’re not money makers.″
Three years ago, the institute contracted with HBJ to use the marine center for its own research. About 400 community college and university students visit the center every year for a week-long course on marine biology.
Currently, the Department of Natural Resources is growing 10,000 conchs there to determine whether they can be grown to reseed depleted conch beds. State and university researchers also are studying the lobster population to determine whether the creature has been overfished and needs protection.
Vargo said the only other sites under U.S. control where similar research could be conducted were in Puerto Rico and St. Croix.