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Monday, Oct 16, 2017
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Editorial: Expanding USF’s medical reach

Most of the attention on the proposal to move the University of South Florida medical school to downtown Tampa understandably has focused on how the project would attract people and enterprises to the city’s urban core.

But as the USF Board of Trustees considers the proposal at its meeting today, members will also learn how the plan will strengthen USF’s medical efforts at its main campus in North Tampa.

The plan to locate the Morsani College of Medicine and USF Heart Health Institute downtown would give an enormous boost to the medical care and the economy of the entire region.

The arguments for the downtown medical complex are overwhelming. It would be close to Tampa General Hospital and USF’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation training complex.

Moreover, the dynamic urban environment would hold great appeal to students and professors, as many of today’s young professionals like city life and don’t want to drive everywhere.

It would surely attract more development and enterprises, particularly medical-related businesses, downtown.

But it is important to remember the downtown move would not diminish medical education at USF’s main campus. Indeed, it would allow the university to expand its health care efforts.

School officials say moving the medical school would make space available that could accommodate a major expansion of the university’s neuroscience research. It also would allow expansion of the College of Nursing, which is important considering the state is expected to experience a shortfall of 50,000 nurses in the coming years.

The downtown project also would free up space that could allow the construction of a joint research building with Moffitt Cancer Center and a new Department of Bioengineering facility.

It also would allow the university to give new focus to microbiology, biodefense and infectious disease, expanding both clinical work and research.

So moving the Morsani College of Medicine would bolster the university’s health care work on multiple fronts, increasing the main campus offerings even as its urban facility gives USF a more prominent national profile.

And trustees also should see the advantages of forming a partnership with Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who has offered to donate some of his Channelside property for the school.

Vinik has been particularly generous to his adopted community, and his development plans recently won the backing of Bill Gates’ investment firm.

There will be details, particularly traffic, to work out. Urban development can be more expensive, even with free land.

But such matters are a trifle compared to the potential benefits of this venture.

The Florida Board of Governors will have the final say on the Board of Trustees’ recommendation.

But members of both boards should see they have a rare opportunity to transform a university and an economy at the same time.

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