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USF given $5M to plan downtown med school

SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Though the Board of Governors (BOG) didn’t jump on USF’s boat to bring a medical school to downtown Tampa, the university did receive a $5 million installment Thursday for planning expenses.   

The university had requested $62 million for the project, now minus the $5 million received up front, to be paid out incrementally over three years.

Over the last four months, the plans to bring the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and USF Health Heart Institute to downtown Tampa had enjoyed unanimous approval and enthusiasm from USF President Judy Genshaft, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

All three were present in Jacksonville on Wednesday when the BOG pumped the brakes on the project. Though no BOG members outwardly opposed the plans, some said they needed to see a business plan before investing millions.  

BOG member Morteza Hosseini proposed freeing $5 million to fund the information gathering that the board requested. 

USF presented to the BOG’s Facilities Committee in October about its plans for a new medical school, but some of Wednesday’s BOG members were not present for that meeting. 

BOG member H. Wayne Huizenga apologized for not letting USF officials know that they were expected to present again at Wednesday’s BOG meeting. 

The new medical school is a key component to Vinik’s billion-dollar plan to revitalize large sections of the 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. 

The plan calls for the College of Medicine and Health Heart Institute to combine into one 12-story tall building with floors for dining, classrooms, laboratories, a library and a clinic. The project 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 relies on state funding. The university wants approximately $130 million from state funding, including the $62 million the state had originally intended to put toward a new medical school for USF’s Tampa campus.

The university will come back to the BOG on Feb. 19 to give a more detailed presentation.

If the BOG approves the request to build downtown, the plans would be voted on by the Florida Legislature before going to Gov. Rick Scott for final approval.