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W - CSI - DSC 0097 copyALACHUA – It is likely that super sleuth Sherlock Holmes would have been amazed by modern crime scene forensics. And what better location is there than Alachua’s CSI Academy of Florida to showcase mock crime scenes for a film about Holmes. A London-based production company plans to feature the facility in a documentary. The CSI Academy, which is located in the Phoenix Industrial Park at 12787 U.S. Highway 441in Alachua, equips students with the tools necessary to enter into the field of crime scene investigation and to create more jobs within this field.

The film, produced by Love Productions, will focus on how Sherlock Holmes changed the world of modern crime-scene investigating.

The company filmed mock crime scenes and other footage at the 28,000-square-foot facility Wednesday and Thursday. The documentary will be released sometime in 2013.

Debbie Mongiardo, a member of the CSI Academy’s management team, said they expect a lot of exposure from the documentary.

“It’s definitely an opportunity for us,” she said. “It’s a big deal. It’s exciting.”

She said an employee from the production company contacted one of the academy’s instructors and asked about filming.

Mongiardo said the facility, which opened in September, has received inquiries from all over the country.

The academy offers a one-week basic course, primarily for law enforcement officers, and a 300-hour, seven-week course for anyone who is interested in a career in crime scene investigation.

The classes available include crime scene photography, ballistics, death investigations, blood evidence, fingerprint collection techniques, ballistics, sex crime investigation and more.

The programs are designed to prepare students to competently process crime scenes.

According to Department of Labor Statistics, CSI jobs are expected to grow by 19 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Competition for jobs will be strong because of substantial interest in forensic science.

Mongiardo said the seven-week course is $11,150, and that includes meals, textbooks and latent print kits. The academy sets up indoor and outdoor mock crime scenes to provide realistic training for students.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, detectives and criminal investigators earn an average annual salary of about $58,000, or about $28 per hour. A beginning crime scene investigation salary ranges between $34,000 and $45,000. A crime scene investigator salary can approach $100,000 with solid experience.

Additional information about the CSI Academy is available at http://www.csiacademyflorida.com.

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ALACHUA– Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation, (AGTC), a privately-held, clinical stage biotechnology company developing gene therapy products to treat rare retinal diseases, has secured $37.5 million in a Series B round of venture capital funding.

AGTC is a graduate company of the University of Florida Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator located in Alachua’s Progress Corporate Park.

Alta Partner and S.R. One, Limited led the financing, with new investor Osage University Partners joining existing investors InterWest, Intersouth, and MedImmune Ventures in the round.

This brings AGTC’s total venture capital funding to almost $88 million. AGTC began life in the Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator in 2000 and graduated in 2006.

The funding will allow AGTC to continue development of its Phase 2 program in Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (Alpha-1) and initiate full development of potential treatments for Achromatopsia (ACHM) and X-Linked Rentinoschisis (XLRS).

ACHM is an inherited genetic condition that presents at birth with impaired visual acuity. Most patients are legally blind, lacking color discrimination and experiencing extreme light sensitivity, resulting in daytime blindness. ACHM is caused by mutations in a group of genes which make the cone cells concentrated in the central retina non-functional. There is no treatment for Achromatopsia, although deep red tinted spectacles or contact lenses can reduce symptoms of light sensitivity. Approximately 22,000 patients in the U.S. and Europe suffer from this disease.

AGTC’s potential treatment uses an adeno-associated virus (AAV), a safe, man-made virus that delivers healthy copies of the ACHM gene to the cells of the retina, replacing the defective copies of the gene. A single treatment is expected to halt the disease for several years, perhaps a lifetime. The AAV delivery system is successfully being used in clinical trials of Leber congenital amaurosis gene therapy that have restored vision in more than 50 adults and children who were virtually blind. Previous research has shown promising signs of efficacy in dog models of ACHM.

XLRS, an inherited genetic condition, is a leading cause of juvenile macular degeneration in males. It is caused by mutations in the RS1 gene, which results in the layers of the central retina splitting. Patients typically begin to experience progressive vision loss between the ages of 5 and 10. Other early symptoms include the inability to focus both eyes and roving, involuntary eye movements. No treatment for XLRS is currently available. Approximately 35,000 patients in the U.S. and Europe suffer from this disease. Previous research has shown promising signs of efficacy in rodent models of XLRS.

AGTC is focused on the research and development of novel therapeutics for patients with unmet medical needs utilizing AGTC’s proprietary, non-pathogenic adeno-associated virus (AAV) delivery system. The company has demonstrated that this system can be used to deliver a normal form of a gene in both animals and humans thus allowing their own body to produce sustained therapeutic levels of important biologics. The company’s most advanced programs in development are treatments for Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (Alpha-1) a disease causing a progressive loss of lung function, and Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, an inherited condition causing early blindness. Both utilize AGTC’s proprietary AAV system and production methods.

"We are strong believers in the business model of developing treatments for genetic disorders," said Ed Hurwitz, General Partner of Alta Partners. "Based on encouraging clinical results from AGTC and others, we concluded that a large set of genetically defined diseases could be cured using AGTC’s proprietary vectors and manufacturing technologies. The Series B financing is designed to move several of AGTC’s programs through proof of concept as well as to allow the company to leverage its manufacturing and development infrastructure with partners to accelerate a broad portfolio of curative products.”

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W - Alachua Fall Festival DSC 0029 copyDowntown Alachua welcomed a bevy of activity Sunday as the 10th annual Harvest Festival was in full swing most of the day. With parking around the Main Street area at a premium, festival goers parked along Skinner Park and near Alachua City Hall, walking several blocks to the historic downtown area. Music, food, children’s activities and vendors selling a wide ranging variety of goods and services were on hand. The event, which is sponsored by the Alachua Business League with support from the City of Alachua and local businesses, enjoyed sunny skies and warm weather. This year’s festival coincided with Veteran’s Day, and local groups including Alachua’s Cub Scout Pack 88, helped in the “Veteran's Tent" in support of the Alachua County Military Support Group and their mission to send care packages to soldiers serving overseas.

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HIGH SPRINGS – A forensic audit of the High Springs Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) for fiscal years 2008-2012 was completed in October at a cost to the City of High Springs of $11,000.

Michael G. Kessler, President of Kessler International in New York, has since forwarded the audit findings to the City. Kessler noted that CRA funds had been given as “grants” to other community entities; CRA funds were used for items not usually allowed, confusing accounting procedures and the need for the CRA to establish its own bank account separate from the City. Kessler also reported that the CRA was unable to provide some requested records.

Several CRA Board members expressed concern about the report. In response to the audit, Board member Sylvia Newcomb delivered written comments at the October CRA meeting concerning past actions taken by the City, by Main Street, by the Community Development Corporation (CDC) and related officers. Upon hearing the audit results Board member Ann Carter said she would like to see those who had inappropriately used CRA funds be “brought to justice.”

Among Kessler’s comments that seemed most disturbing to Board members was his team’s inability to obtain all of the CRA records, which were requested during the audit.

At the Nov. 8, 2012 commission meeting, previous city manager Jeri Langman responded to that issue commenting that Kessler’s records requests were made during the time her staff were occupied trying to finalize the City’s 2012-2013 budget…a time when the City held two to three meetings per week in an attempt to whittle the budget down.

A further dispute arising from the audit report stemmed from comments made by some CRA Board members alleging that Lucie Regensdorf, who was the Main Street Organization’s Chairman during a portion of the audit review period, had used CRA funds inappropriately to develop a $15,000 commercial for The Grady House Bed & Breakfast – a business she and her husband own.

Lucie Regensdorf denied any wrongdoing and said, “The ‘commercial’ they are referring to is a video shot by Visit Florida, which appears on its website.”

“The CRA,” Regensdorf said, “chose to spend $1,500 of its own money – not $15,000.” She went on to say, “Visit Gainesville partnered with the CRA and paid the other $1,500. Total $3,000.”

Regensdorf charged that the video, which can be viewed at http://www.visitflorida.com/video/310-high-springs, had not been viewed by the current CRA members, as the video clearly shows the springs and other natural areas of interest to visitors, as well as signs of various downtown businesses and of Main Street.

Following additional comments by several CRA Board members, Board member and City Commissioner Scott Jamison suggested the Board learn from the audit and earlier mistakes and move forward doing it right in the future.

CRA Board member and City Commissioner Sue Weller, who had recently attended the Florida Redevelopment Association (FRA) Annual Conference, said afterward that she learned that many cities don’t understand the rules. “Up until three years ago,” she said, “there was no real training on the program. A lot of cities were not aware they could go to the FRA to obtain information on the day-to-day particulars of how to administer the program.”

Weller added, “One of the most important aspects I learned about during the conference is that we need to review and revise our CRA plan every five years to keep it current with the overall plan for the downtown area.” She noted that the High Springs CRA is a 26-year-old Board and “our plan hasn’t changed during that time. The original plan was just passed down from Board to Board to Board with no training,” she explained.

Weller also learned that during review, the CRA should identify everything they want to accomplish during the next five-year period, but to “keep the plan broad based.”

Weller noted that the funds that had been given out by the CRA to other agencies somehow benefited the City. “It may not have been spent within the parameters of what the plan says, but none of it was done for deceitful or fraudulent purposes,” she said. “We are learning from past mistakes and we realize we have to change the way we have been doing things. We need to go forward with the correct procedures in place to make sure we follow the Florida statute and best practices for what is required for the CRA area,” she said.

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NEWBERRY – The City of Newberry’s planning and building department has geared up to create a new business model that would foster business development and innovative product creation. The plans are in the preliminary stage, but the goal is to acquire grants to develop a new business model that assists entrepreneurs looking to start businesses in Newberry, and then to ensure they will remain in the community.

Examples provided by Lowell Garrett, planning director for the project, include two or three businesses that test electronic equipment that got their start in Newberry. These companies work with businesses nationwide from their Newberry locations. These are the types of business this innovative business model would grow said Garrett.

The vision for the model is similar to the University of Florida Innovation Hub in Gainesville in that it will provide a system for expansion for high-tech businesses through formation of a business incubator. However, Garrett said an important point to consider is that urban centers, college towns and small towns such as Newberry function differently. There will be different parameters to consider regarding how to launch such a new business model in what is considered a bedroom community of Gainesville.

The planning department and the economic development committee will collaborate to apply for a planning grant and eventually, an implementation grant at the federal level. The first grant establishes parameters of the program such as data analysis to put the plan in motion. A business plan will be developed for presentation to prospective parties that are interested in making the business incubator a reality.

The incubator will provide a location where a business can start up with the benefit of lower overhead and funding expenses. The rent, power and utilities are usually included in a bundle, and personal and general development costs are lower. The Newberry model would focus on business startups of one to two people, who would typically be the product developers.

The goal is that within six months to a year, the business exits the start-up phase and establishes itself locally, or expands to other locations. This innovative model will be designed to keep the businesses in the community.

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W - Peterson - DwCF7367 copyAtlanta Falcons Linebacker Michael Peterson (left) and Hitchcock’s Market’s Candi Kish (right) are joined by Alachua family Gloria and Michelle Garcia (Center).

ALACHUA – Atlanta Falcons LB Mike Peterson, a 14-year veteran of the NFL, is helping celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday season in his hometown of Alachua by providing a little holiday cheer for 100 pre-selected, under-served families.

Tuesday evening, each of the 100 families received a special greeting and holiday dinner basket from Peterson and his wife, Chantal, at Hitchcock’s Supermarket on U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua.

Participating families, who were identified in cooperation with Alachua County Schools, have children enrolled at Alachua Elementary, W.W. Irby Elementary, A.L. Mebane Middle and Santa Fe High Schools.

The 2012 Thanksgiving Holiday Celebration is sponsored by Hitchcock’s Markets and their vendors. Hitchcock’s Markets, serving this area for over 60 years, operates 11 locations throughout North Central Florida, and is active in community oriented activities.

Tuesday evening, Hitchcock’s Representative Candi Kish said, “We like to contribute in this way because it directly benefits numerous families in our community.”

Founder of the Mike Peterson Foundation, Peterson and his wife Chantal, are dedicated to improving the quality of life and promoting the positive development of youth through football and other community outreach projects similar to the holiday program.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs City Commission voted 3-2 on Thursday, Nov. 8, to formally notify USDA, the project’s funding agency, in writing of the Commission’s decision not to move ahead with phases 4 and 5 of the sewer project at this time.

The action was taken despite urging by residents suggesting the City did not need to notify USDA of a decision this early and that doing so might eliminate that possible future funding source.

City Attorney Scott Walker concurred that notification was not required, but indicated the City could choose to do so or not. Walker suggested the City would have to seek bond and grant funds later if they decide to continue with those phases after notifying USDA of their decision.

Commissioners Sue Weller and Scott Jamison provided the dissenting votes in that action with Jamison cautioning that the City was in the highest vulnerability area due to the close proximity to the aquifer.

As part of the discussion, Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas suggested the City notify the 200-250 homeowners on the south side of town that there will be a fee to hook up to the system. He said residents are under the impression the City will hook them up at no cost.

Barnas also indicated that in Starke, “they are doing something better,” and referred to the possibility of “tapping into the City of Alachua,” but did not provide details on either concept.

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