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Monday, Oct 16, 2017
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Editorial: Approve USF medical school

The Florida Board of Governors, meeting in Jacksonville today and Thursday, is scheduled to decide funding for the University of South Florida’s new medical school proposed to be built in downtown Tampa.

This should be an easy call.

The USF’s Morsani College of Medicine and the Health Heart Institute would be located in a $157 million, 12-story building and be the centerpiece of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s projected $1 billion redevelopment of 28 acres in the Channel District.

Vinik’s project, which will include residential towers, hotels and office buildings, is expected to transform downtown and the local economy. So the Board of Governors can boost medical education and the economy at the same time. And the governors should see that USF is requesting no more than what it would have spent on developing the school and the Heart Institute, which have been given initial approvals, at its north Tampa campus.

The state is not being asked to underwrite Vinik’s venture. He’s donating land for the building and will build a supporting parking garage and medical office complex. Any costs above what USF would need for on-campus construction will be covered with private donations.

USF is requesting $17 million for the medical school this year, with the ultimate state total to be $62 million after three years. It also wants $15.8 million this year for the Heart Institute, which has been promised $50 million in state funds. Philanthropist Frank Morsani has pledged $18 million for the medical school.

The key fact here is that USF must replace its 40-year-old medical school facilities, which lack modern classrooms and other necessities and are generating inordinate maintenance costs. The investment is essential for the medical school to thrive, and the downtown location, more appealing to young students, physicians and researchers, will bolster the state’s return on investment. The urban school would be close to Tampa General Hospital, where students train, and USF’s CAMLS (Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation), where students and physicians practice medical procedures with simulators. Having the Heart Institute near TGH’s exceptional cardiac programs also will be an advantage

All this surely will attract other health care enterprises. USF officials estimate the downtown school will create close to 1,500 jobs.

Local leaders enthusiastically support the project, and Tampa City Council has pledged $30 million to provide the necessary road, stormwater and utility improvements for the development.

The Board of Governors is being asked to partner with a private developer and local officials in a higher education investment that will invigorate a university, a downtown and the economy. They should have no trouble recognizing the golden opportunity they are being handed.

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