TAMPA — University of South Florida trustees on Thursday endorsed what Dean Charles Lockwood called “one of the greatest urban redevelopment projects in the country,” voting unanimously to relocate the Morsani College of Medicine to downtown Tampa.
The issue now goes to the state university system Board of Governors, which is expected next month to consider the move and funding for the $157 million project.
“Having a medical school and a really state-of-the-art research operation in a vibrant downtown area will be extraordinary,” said Lockwood. “It makes my job in recruitment much easier.”
The medical school is planned for the corner of Meridian Avenue and Channelside Drive. It is envisioned as 12 stories tall, but could include “shell space” on additional floors.
The project, which includes the university’s new USF Health Heart Institute, a second private medical tower and parking garage, would yield $629 million in economic output a year in Hillsborough County — $166 million more than the existing medical school on the USF campus on Fowler Road generates, according to a report prepared for trustees.
It would add 1,022 jobs on top of the 3,279 already in place at the medical school, with an average wage of $82,539.
Economic benefits aside, Lockwood said a downtown location provides significant advantages academically.
He cited the appeal of an urban environment in recruiting staff and students; the proximity of Tampa General Hospital and USF’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation; the potential for new programs in sports medicine and executive wellness; making way for a tighter focus at the main campus on neuro and rehabilitation science, cancer biology and infectious diseases; and expansion of the College of Nursing.
“It would be the preference of almost any dean of any medical school in the country to be downtown, where the action is, but we also want to be near our primary teaching affiliate,” Lockwood said. “That’s where our clinical trials will occur, that’s where a lot of the teaching of our medical students occurs, and a lot of the faculty that will have labs in our research building will be seeing patients at Tampa General.”
The medical school and heart institute will sit on land donated by Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the arena the hockey team calls home. Vinik’s development group will build a 10-story medical center next door and a parking garage for 1,800 cars. The medical center would house some USF Health administrative functions as well as Tampa General Hospital offices and other private practices.
The USF complex will be a downtown anchor, Vinik said.
He and his organization “are very proud of our relationship with USF,” Vinik said. “We are aligned in terms of values, in terms of vision, and in terms of things we want to accomplish. I feel like we’re part of the family.”
With Board of Governors approval, the structures – which would be built simultaneously – could be open by 2018.
Vinik owns or has control of 30 acres surrounding Amalie Arena. USF had been planning to build the new medical school and heart institute on the main campus but Vinik stepped in with his offer in October.
The existing medical school is overcrowded and outdated, Lockwood said. It was built in an era when medical training was based in the classroom and at the bedside. Today’s approach involves patient interaction, computer simulation and much higher technology.
“We really lack classroom functionality,” Lockwood said. He added the space left behind would be “backfilled” to expand the school’s nursing program. Florida faces a shortage of 50,000 nurses in the coming decades, and USF could help “increase the pipeline,” he said.
The state Board of Governors will take up the issue at its meeting Jan. 20-21 in Jacksonville. That panel makes funding requests to the state Legislature, and USF will pitch is funding model at that meeting.
The university will seek $62 million in state funding for the medical school portion of the new structure. Lawmakers have already provided $5 million, so USF will ask for $17 million next spring and $20 million in each of the following two years.
The school will seek $50 million in state funding for the heart institute segment; that project has already received $35 million from the state, so the school will seek another $15 million this spring.
USF is also holding an $18 million gift from philanthropists Frank and Carol Morsani. That will require the university to raise an additional $27 million through private funding.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a major supporter of the relocation of the medical school, lauded the trustees’ vote. “Their vision for a signature USF presence in the urban core will pay dividends for decades,” Buckhorn said Thursday. “Make no mistake that this is a bold step. Relocating to downtown Tampa gives USF an opportunity to be even more competitive in recruiting students, faculty, and researchers while enhancing the learning experience for its medical students. This is the right decision at the right time for USF and for Tampa.”