Last month while students were finishing up exams and heading home for the holidays, the USF Board of Trustees (BOT) voted unanimously to build the new Morsani College of Medicine and USF Health Heart Institute in downtown Tampa.
The proposal, first openly discussed in a BOT workshop in early October, will go to the Board of Governors later this month for final approval.
The project is a part of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s plan to revitalize large sections of downtown area.
In October, Vinik offered to donate an acre for USF to build a medical facility on the empty corner of Channelside Drive and Meridian Avenue, less than a mile away from Amalie Arena where the Lightning play.
“We are trying to do something absolutely incredible for the city of Tampa,” Vinik said at the Dec. 4 BOT vote, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “We are so fortunate. We have been given a blank canvas of 30-plus acres surrounding the Amalie Arena, surrounded by water on three sides.”
In a presentation at the Tampa Marriot Waterside Hotel on Dec. 17, Vinik presented his billion-dollar vision that would turn Tampa’s unremarkable downtown into an internationally recognizable cityscape where residents “live, work, play and stay.”
At the front row of the presentation, alongside Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, sat USF President Judy Genshaft.
In the meetings leading up to the final vote, Genshaft strongly supported Dr. Charles Lockwood, who advocated the proposal to the BOT.
Lockwood said there would be several advantages to a downtown location, such as a close proximity to Tampa General Hospital, where many USF medical students train.
Lockwood had also said a medical school in a revitalized downtown location would attract top-tier talent in academics and research. Students and faculty could study at the school, practice at the hospital and live all within the same downtown area.
“There will be many positive externalities for the area,” Lockwood said in the Oct. 15 BOT workgroup. “It also has to do with the city’s quality of life, property values, tourism, tax revenues and industrial development.”
As part of Vinik’s stipulation, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and the USF Health Heart Institute will be combined into one 12-story tall building with floors for dining, classrooms, laboratories, a library and a clinic. The plans would also feature a medical office and parking garage across the street, able to fit an estimated 1,750 vehicles.
The construction of the new medical school could cost up to $163 million, most of which would come from taxpayer money, though Lockwood said the project could have an annual economic output of $215 million, according to the Tampa Bay Times, and create over 1,000 jobs.
The university expects approximately $130 million from state funding. This expectation relies on the funding originally lined up for major renovations to the Morsani College of Medicine and the Heart Institute on the main campus. Lockwood had argued that moving the medical schools to downtown could allow more space on the main campus for nursing, oncology and neuroscience.
Nonetheless, the state funding is not entirely certain until the Florida Board of Governors (BOG) meet on Jan. 21-22 in Jacksonville, where USF will formally request funding.
If the BOG approves, allowing the $130 million to go to the construction of the medical tower in downtown, USF would have to collect around $20 to $33 million from donations. The trustees at the workgroups indicated the university could be optimistic when counting on donors, such as Vinik and the Morsani family, to see the project through.