PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Port St. Lucie city council held its first official discussion about what to do after Digital Domain's company closure, which, on Friday, left 280 employees without jobs.
After a regular meeting, the city council heard from a handful of former Digital Domain employees, who shared their concerns.
Travis Blaise, a former Digital Domain employee, spoke before the city council about his worries after the company closure.
"I followed my brother here, and so did the hundreds of people that came here that believed in the project," said Blaise. "People from other countries that have to leave in two weeks, and there's nothing we have done. It's not your responsibility, but somehow it is. It's all of our responsibilities."
City Manager Greg Oravec said he has a three-pronged approach to addressing the closure of the company.
"First, we have to take care of the people," said Oravec. "Second, we have to go through the nuts and bolts of the default process. Next, we have to find a company that's better than Digital Domain, that will stick with us and we can stick with for the long run."
The soon-to-be empty Digital Domain Traditions building in Port St. Lucie could incur more than $3 million a year for the next 20 years, unless the city finds another tenant.
The building cost almost $40 million, and Digital Domain has made only one payment.
Port St. Lucie resident Mike DiIanni bought 500 shares of Digital Domain stock at more than $6 a share. He said he wanted to support the local business, even though his broker told him not to buy, and the shares are now worth $0.43, so he's lost thousands out of his pocket.
"It makes me feel like the people that made the decision rushed to judgment on making this deal," explained DiIanni. "They saw the number 500 jobs at $60,000 a year. To be honest, that's not a lot of jobs, that's not a lot of money. Maybe for down here it's a lot of money, but it's not a lot of jobs when you're putting out $50 million dollars of taxpayers money. We didn't vote."
The building is highly specialized, created specifically for the special effects company, so DiIanni said he is worried that it would be difficult to find a company that would want to use the facility.
There are reserve funds that can cover the debt for the next year when it comes due in February, according to Port St. Lucie Public Information Officer Ed Cunningham.
Council member Jack Kelly at the council meeting said he has high hopes for the facility. "We could get a Pixar in here," he said during Monday night's meeting. "That's what I thought it was going to be. Pixar came from noting."
Mayor JoAnn Faiella addressed the former Digital Domain employees, and reassured them the city would take care of them. "We are a team, and we will see what we can do as a city, I promise," she said.
Travis Blaise, a former Digital Domain employee, spoke before the city council about his concerns. "I followed my brother here, and so did the hundreds of people that came here that believed in the project," said Blaise. "People from other countries that have to leave in two weeks, and there's nothing we have done. It's not your responsibility, but somehow it is. It's all of our responsibilities."
He said the former employees have come together during the difficult time with a Facebook support page. "We all came here, we got duped, it sucks, but we're trying to make something good out of this, too."
Council member Michelle Berger said hearing the former employees' stories touched her heart. "It's a good reminder that there are people involved," she said. "There are humans behind this. It's not just about what's going on with the building."