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Channelside view considered for new med school

If the medical school is relocated to Channelside, the streets around it will be reconstructed to allow access on Ball Street. 

With hopes of transforming the downtown area around Amalie Arena, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has offered an acre for USF to build a medical facility. 

Dr. Charles Lockwood, the senior vice president of USF Health, revealed the proposal to the USF Board of Trustees (BOT) health workgroup meeting on Wednesday.

“This, potentially, would have tremendous economic benefits to Tampa in developing this really premier waterfront,” he said. “It would make Tampa a destination site for a whole variety of reasons.”

If approved, the corner of Channelside Drive and Meridian Avenue would be the new home of the USF Morsani College of Medicine and the USF Health Heart Institute — a mile away from Tampa General
Hospital (TGH).

“Students would have ready access by car – even by foot – to our primary teaching hospital and affiliate, Tampa General,” Lockwood said.

The majority of TGH physicians are from USF, and the physical proximity aligns with a rekindled relationship between the institutions.

Lockwood recently exchanged leadership roles with the CEO of TGH to increase collaboration between the university and the hospital.

Lockwood also said an attractive facility may encourage recruitment of skilled researchers and talented medical students who would benefit the area.

“There will be many positive externalities for the area,” he said. “It also has to do with the city’s quality of life, property values, tourism, tax revenues and industrial development.”

However, some BOT members thought the plan sounded too good to be true, such as Scott Hopes.

“It’s a lot of anecdotal information,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of decisions before based on a vision or based on assumptions that were not tested.”

Hopes said the BOT must empirically decide whether it is cost-beneficial to make the move to downtown, rather than to build on the USF Tampa campus. 

“If, in fact, there is a cost difference between being downtown and being on the campus, that needs to be made up from somewhere other than from the taxpayers,” he said.

Though Lockwood said building downtown would likely cost more than staying put, he said relocating would allow better use of space in the main campus.

“College of Nursing is literally bursting at the seams,” he said. “The state has a 50,000 nurse shortage. We are limited and having to rent classroom space.”

Lockwood said it would also allow expansion of oncology and neuroscience.

“The net impact, I think, in 5 years would be growth in the north campus,” he said, “rather than any dilution in student activity, research or teaching.”

Hopes said the BOT must study South Tampa to determine the advantages and disadvantages of the area, such as whether researchers would want to live there and whether the resources in the area would be utilized. 

“These aren’t questions any different than what the legislature will put forward,” he said. 

USF is asking the Board of Governors for $62 million over the next three years, starting with $17 million to build a new USF Morsani College of Medicine. 

The university has already received $5 million from the state’s budget to start planning construction, regardless of where it is built, in addition to the $51 million the university is seeking for a new Heart Health Institute.  

A stipulation of Vinik’s, in gifting the land, is that USF must decide to build both the USF Morsani College of Medicine and the USF Health Heart Institute there. 

However, the decision cannot be made until all the details are finalized and approved by the Board of Governors. The Board of Governors has told the university they must make a final decision on where to build the new medical school, or the $17 million could be delayed. 

Lockwood said he will have comparative costs and other details ready in the next few weeks, in time for the next BOT workshop on Oct. 30.

The BOT will vote on Dec. 4 and present to the Board of Governors in January.