TAMPA — The effort to build a University of South Florida medical school downtown hit a snag Wednesday when a committee overseeing the state’s 12 public universities delayed funding for the project until it hears more details.
USF officials will provide additional information on the $157 million project before the next State University System Board of Governors meeting on Feb. 19. The board technically does not fund projects, but prepares a legislative budget request to the Florida Legislature that indicates what projects are priorities for the system.
On Wednesday in Jacksonville, the board’s facilities committee pulled a request for $17 million for the medical school from its list of recommended 2015-16 construction projects when members complained of a lack of specifics.
“Whatever they ask for, we’re happy to give them,” USF System President Judy Genshaft said after the committee action. “We’ve done so much work on this, we’re really ready to present whenever and however much they want.”
The Board of Governors typically prepares its legislative budget request in January, but Mark Walsh, assistant vice president for government relations, said USF was assured that there would be ample time for the medical school request to move forward once the board is briefed.
The committee did recommend a $15.8 million allocation for the USF Health Heart Institute, which is slated to join the medical school downtown. With prior allocations, the new funding covers that project’s full $50 million construction cost.
The panel also recommends another $12.3 million for the Tiedemann College of Business at USF St. Petersburg, allowing completion of that project. And the Florida Institute of Oceanography, a consortium hosted by USF, got the nod for a $6 million research vessel to replace an aging ship.
Genshaft said she did not consider Wednesday’s move a setback, noting that the committee did free up a prior $5 million allocation to study the relocation of the medical school — money USF hadn’t been able to tap until board members signed off. “That’s great, we can go ahead and spend that money,” Genshaft said, adding that Wednesday’s caution was not a “send-it-back-to-the-drawing-board” signal.
USF is seeking the $17 million this year, then $20 million the following two years to complete a 12-story building at Channelside Drive and Meridian Avenue. The Morsani College of Medicine would then relocate from the main Tampa campus.
Wednesday’s move came despite pitches from Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and from Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who donated land for the medical school.
“This move is bigger than baseball in Tampa,” Buckhorn told committee members, repeating a mantra familiar to his constituents. “It is more sustainable, it creates real jobs and real opportunities, it marries this medical school with Tampa General Hospital, it fills the five new residential towers under construction or about to be under construction, and it puts a building with the USF logo in the heart of downtown.”