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Monday, Oct 16, 2017
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Editorial: Medical school move a winner for USF, economy

Last month the Florida Board of Governors delayed voting on funding a proposal to move the University of South Florida medical school to downtown Tampa, with members of the facilities committee wanting more details and time to review them.

There should be no confusion or delay today as the board revisits the plan at its meeting in Jacksonville.

As board members review the support materials, it should be overwhelmingly clear that locating the USF Morsani College of Medicine and the Health Heart Institute downtown would energize the university and the economy.

USF officials estimate the downtown school will create close to 1,500 jobs, help spur economic development and lure health care industries to the region, particularly with Lightning owner Jeff Vinik aggressively marketing the surrounding development. The heart institute — to be the largest heart research center in the state — alone is projected to have more than a $56 million economic impact.

The board doesn’t have the last word on the expenditure. The Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott also must approve it. But all involved should see the venture’s huge economic promise.

The $157 million, 11-story building that will house the new medical school and the heart institute is to the be core of Vinik’s $1 billion redevelopment of 28 acres in the Channel District, which will include residences, offices, hotels and retail.

The project will not create any extra costs for the state.

USF, after all, must replace the 40-year-old school at its North Tampa campus. Its facilities are badly outdated and require costly maintenance work.

So now is the appropriate time for a move.

Building the medical school and Health Heart Institute near Tampa General Hospital, USF’s primary teaching hospital and a leader in cardiac medicine, and USF’s downtown Center for Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS), will be convenient for students and physicians.

Studies show that third- and fourth-year medical students spend nearly 40 percent of their time training at TGH and nearby clinical facilities.

Surveys also show medical students strongly support the downtown location.

The downtown site will create a medical hub that surely will attract other health care-related enterprises.

Students, physicians, researchers and faculty members would be able to “live, work and play” in the vicinity.

That’s the same reason the University of Central Florida proposes developing a “creative village” education complex in downtown Orlando along with Valencia College.

With USF’s proposal, the state has an opportunity to work with Vinik, a visionary businessman who has proven his commitment to Tampa and has the financial wherewithal to accomplish his plans.

Vinik’s development is being backed by Bill Gates’ investment firm.

It is important for the Board of Governors to understand that the state is not being asked to assume any risks for Vinik. He is donating land for the medical school and heart institute building and also will build a supporting parking garage and medical office complex.

The state would pay only what it would have paid for an on-campus medical school. Local government will take care of the necessary road work.

USF President Judy Genshaft pledges private donations will cover any costs that exceed what would have been needed for on-campus construction.

Beyond not having the same dramatic economic impact, building on-campus is no simple, cheap alternative. Campus traffic congestion and parking shortages would need to be addressed.

Moving the medical school would free up badly needed space at the main campus, allowing expansion of other health care efforts, such as neuroscience research and the College of Nursing.

USF is requesting $17 million for the medical school from the state this year.

The total costs for the state after three years would be $62 million.

In addition, philanthropists Frank and Carol Morsani have pledged $18 million to the school.

USF also is requesting $15.8 million for the Heart Institute, which has already been promised $50 million in state funds.

The downtown location won’t just benefit the medical school and the economy. It also will enhance health care, something that should not be overlooked.

In his letter to the Board of Governors, TGH Chairman John Brabson Jr. says the downtown USF medical complex “will create badly needed economies of scale at a time of declining reimbursements and improve the efficiency of delivering medical services to the people we serve. It will allow USF Health and Tampa General to further our cooperative efforts as a leading academic medical center — the engine that will drive Tampa Bay’s development as a national hub for health innovation and biotechnology.”

Those are prospects the Board of Governors, lawmakers and Gov. Scott should eagerly embrace.

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