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Will God save the Elk Run BioBusiness Park project in Minnesota?

“There are two things that we know about the universe,” Abraham Algadi said. “We can only control the things we can control. The rest, we leave to a higher power.” Algadi is not a priest or philosopher, at least professionally. Algadi, the city administrator for Pine Island, Minnesota, was referring to the fate of the much maligned, often delayed Elk Run BioBusiness Park.

“There are two things that we know about the universe,” Abraham Algadi said. “We can only control the things we can control. The rest, we leave to a higher power.”

Algadi is not a priest or philosopher, at least professionally. Algadi, the city administrator for Pine Island, Minnesota, was referring to the fate of the much maligned, often delayed Elk Run BioBusiness Park.

You really can’t blame Algadi for appealing to the Almighty. Four years after Tower Investments floated the idea of a medical device/biotechnology mecca creating hundreds of jobs in rural Minnesota, the only thing Pine Island has today is construction equipment and some dug-up dirt. A $1 billion fund from San Francisco investor Steve Burrill has yet to materialize. Tower says it’s signed up tenants but has not said who they are.

Tower has delayed (again) construction of the first building to March 2011. But does it really matter? There’s already been plenty of ink spilled (especially from this reporter) about the wishful thinking, the lack of accountability, the broken promises, the missed deadlines.

No, at this point, we should ask ourselves: what’s Plan B?

And that’s the real problem. There is no Plan B. It’s biotech or bust.

“Given the money and time that has [gone] into this project, the only thing we can do is wait,” Algadi said.

Giving up now would be a waste of money, said Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-St. Paul), the former chairman of the now defunct House Biosciences and Workforce Development Committee. Minnesota already has spent nearly $2 million in infrastructure improvements for Elk Run. Another $30 million-to-$40 million in federal highway money and state bonds will build an interchange off Highway 52.

Reasonable people can disagree, but I suspect that face saving, not economic wisdom, is what’s driving Elk Run now. No one wants to admit failure. After all of the posturing, money and effort expended these past few years, we gotta build something.

And something will be built. It just won’t be anything remotely near what Tower and Burrill originally sketched out. A few medical/biotech companies might even move in, though no one outside Tower and the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota really knows.

Algadi sounds like he doesn’t even want to know. “As long as it’s not a coffee shop or something like that,” he said.

As long as it’s not a coffee shop? Boy, we’re setting the bar r-r-r-e-a-l-l-l low, these days.

Elk Run has been a major distraction, said former Sen. Kathy Saltzman (D-Woodbury), a major architect of the state’s new $60 million angel investment tax credit.

Instead of focusing on more promising, practical economic development projects, “we’re wringing our hands every time Elk Run is delayed,” she said. “Was Elk Run ever going to work?”

The only one who knows the answer to that question does not live among us mortals.

And He ain’t talking.