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Paragon Foundation of PBC

April 06, 2007, Palm Beach Post, Nonprofit group set for money, By Hector Florin.

WEST PALM BEACH — A nonprofit organization created to manage a $5'million donation promised by local businessmen during last year's Scripps site selection debate is ready to receive the first batch of the money.

The Paragon Foundation of Palm Beach County, formed after county commissioners voted on Valentine's Day 2006 to move The Scripps Research Institute to a split campus in Jupiter and Palm Beach Gardens, is up and running and can accept its first-year contribution of $1 million, said Keith James, chairman of the foundation's board of directors.

The money will help with minority initiatives, but a strategic plan has not been formalized, James said. The $5 million, announced by Abacoa developer George de Guardiola at the 2006 commission meeting, proved crucial in swaying County Commissioner Addie Greene to vote to move to the split campus, effectively breaking a commission stalemate on Scripps' location.

The decision on Scripps' location came five months after a federal judge's order forced the county to stop construction at the original site on Mecca Farms. Other alternatives in the running were the Florida Research Park and Boca Raton.

Greene's vote resulted in a state ethics complaint filed by a Delray Beach resident that was later dismissed.

"We think we've done what we're supposed to do," said James, a West Palm Beach attorney who also chairs the city's ethics task force. "This is just the first shot over the bow, so to speak. We're not expecting this to be any kind of antagonistic process."

James sent a letter to de Guardiola and Greene this week, writing that Paragon's board believes "that all conditions precedent to the funding of the initial installment of the contribution have been satisfied."

The first donation also was contingent on vertical construction starting at Florida Atlantic University's Abacoa campus in Jupiter. It began in January and the campus is expected to be completed by 2009.

While requesting in the letter that the initial $1 million be paid "as soon as possible," James said in an interview Thursday afternoon that the group was in "no rush" to get the money right away.

"Obviously, the sooner the better," James said.

James also said de Guardiola or the other prospective donors are free to look at the foundation's paperwork before making contributions.

De Guardiola, who was traveling on Thursday, could be not reached for comment.

While initially indicating that he would name the donors, de Guardiola and Greene have chosen to remain mum on who will contribute. However, James wrote in his letter that he wanted a complete list of names and addresses of those who will be donating.

De Guardiola said last year than between 10 and 12 businessmen promised to contribute to the five-year, $1 million-per year donation.

Both James and Greene said they had not spoken with de Guardiola since James sent the letter on Tuesday.

"I'm glad they're moving on it because they know how impatient I'm getting," Greene said about the letter. She said she would call de Guardiola herself only if there was any indication of problems in handing over the initial $1 million, but said she preferred for James to handle those discussions.

Greene added she is "confident" de Guardiola would follow through.

The five members now serving on Paragon's board of directors have met monthly, on average, for the past six months. Greene has attended the meetings so the board can "take my input and I want to know what's happening," she said.

The board is conducting a national search for a president to run the foundation.

Now serving on the board of directors, which plans to expand to nine members, are: accountant Zenora Ward; Hansel Tookes, former president of Pratt & Whitney; Boca Raton entrepreneur John Oxendine; and Lawrence Davenport, former chief fund-raiser of the Florida Atlantic University Foundation; and James.

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