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Home is where the heart is

Located on the corner of USF Magnolia Drive and USF Holly Drive, the plot of land originally planned for the USF Health Heart Institute sits abandoned in prospect of a move downtown for the facility. ORACLE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

There is a deserted plot of land on campus that looks out of place next to the towering, shining medical buildings of USF Health.

Within its boundaries are broken fences, worn concrete and moss trees that stand on dirt and weeds. A roadside sign, crusted with mud, reads: “Future Home of the USF Health Heart Institute.”

The money gone into the abandoned home: $2.4 million.

***

Flashback 16 months and community leaders were breaking the same ground with golden shovels. The publicity was to celebrate a forthcoming 100,000-square-foot, five-story cardiovascular research center. 

When the Heart Institute was first announced, university officials lauded it as the future in the fight against cardiovasular problems.

“Here, doctors and scientists will work together in the latest research discoveries with the best cardiovascular care,” said USF President Judy Genshaft at the groundbreaking. “We bring the most creative solutions to treat heart disease, stroke and diabetes.”

But all planning came to a stop less than a year later when university leaders decided the Heart Institute’s home shouldn’t be USF Magnolia Drive, but Channelside Drive.

The 20-mile change of plan was not without reason. 

Announced in October, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik offered to donate downtown real estate on the condition the university would build a 319,000-square-foot, 12-story medical school housing both the Morsani College of Medicine and the Heart Institute.

The proposed project was part of Vinik’s billion-dollar vision to turn downtown into an urban mecca which people would want to visit for reasons other than business. Illustrations showed people strolling along a scenic waterfront overlooking colorful kayakers.  

The USF Board of Trustees (BOT) became eager at the opportunity to draw in talented researchers and medical students enticed by a revitalized area. As an added benefit, Tampa General Hospital, a primary teaching affiliate, would only be a few miles away.

By the end of last year, the trustees voted in favor of moving the Heart Institute. By February, the university convinced the Florida Board of Governors (BOG) to approve the plans. 

Though the project still awaits authorization from the state Legislature and, ultimately, Gov. Rick Scott, there are no signs of anyone stopping a medical school from being built on Channelside Drive.

But what will become of the plot of dirt on USF Magnolia Drive is unknown.

***

There are currently no known plans for the land if the Heart Institute moves downtown, according to USF Health spokeswoman Anne DeLotto Baier and other university officials.

“To my knowledge there haven’t been any discussions about, in any detail, what to do with it. That would be a decision that the (USF) president makes in consultation with her senior leadership and the (BOT),” said Dr. Edmund Funai, the vice president for strategic development of the USF System and the chief operating officer of USF Health, in an interview with The Oracle.

Nevertheless, USF Health Senior Vice President Dr. Charles Lockwood has given some ideas.

During the BOT’s first discussion, Lockwood said clearing the Morsani College of Medicine building and having the Heart Institute land would be an opportunity for better use of space on the main campus and hinted at an expansion of oncology, neuroscience or nursing. 

“College of Nursing is literally bursting at the seams … the state has a 50,000-nurse shortage. We are limited and having to rent classroom space,” Lockwood said at a BOT workgroup meeting in October.

Before any future projects are confirmed, the university is waiting on Gov. Rick Scott’s signature before deciding what could go on the deserted plot of land.

“We already had contracts in place, they’re still in place and I think they would probably remain in place because we need to make sure that we go downtown,” said Associate Vice President for Strategic Health Operations Roberta Burford in an interview with The Oracle.

University and community leaders gathered on a cold December day in 2013 to celebrate the groundbreaking of the USF Health Heart Institute on the Tampa campus. ORACLE PHOTO/ALEX ROSENTHAL

Before the groundbreaking ceremony in late 2013, contracted work for the Heart Institute had already been underway, according to documents dating back to 2010.

As of late, all work on the main campus has stopped since the downtown project was first brought up. 

The money spent so far on site preparation and design of a Heart Institute on the main campus, according to USF Facilities Planning and Construction, is $2,403,101.21.

The money spent, according to DeLotto Baier, includes costs from the design build contract and the site preparation contracts. 

The primary contract was given to the Whiting-Turner Contracting Company in March 2014, according to documents provided to The Oracle. 

The executed agreement indicated a $1.75 million lump sum would be paid out for the preconstruction phase, which included conceptual planning of the project. The cost of preconstruction and construction could not exceed approximately $38.2 million without university approval.

The contract allowed the university to suspend the project. If the project were suspended for two months, the contractor would receive compensation for services rendered. If the project were suspended for more than a year, the contractor would be compensated for expenses incurred during the interruption.

The payments owed for work performed and other expenses, according to DeLotto Baier’s statement, have been paid. The Oracle is still waiting on requested monthly executive summaries and development documents that would provide detailed construction schedules and estimates.

On the condition of termination, according to the contract, the university and the contractor would negotiate any expenses incurred by cancellation.

If the Heart Institute were moved downtown, it would be a different project, according to DeLotto Baier. 

This might result in different contractors, as required by Florida statutes. USF would award the most-qualified firm with the task of incorporating both the Morsani College of Medicine and the Heart Institute.

Whereas the Heart Institute on the main campus was estimated to cost $50 million, the downtown contract would be much bigger.

***

In 2012, the Florida government appropriated $6.9 million to the proposed Heart Institute on the Tampa campus. Over the next two years, the project continued to receive state funding.

The amount appropriated is currently $34.4 million. In addition, USF hopes to receive more than $15 million in this year’s state budget. The expected total is around $50.1 million.

As part of the agreement for moving downtown, USF would combine state funding originally appropriated for both the Heart Institute and the Morsani College of Medicine and put it all toward the combined project.

Last year, Florida gave the Morsani College of Medicine $5 million for renovations on the Tampa campus. This year, the college is expected to receive $17 million, followed by an additional $40 million in the next few years.

The estimated cost for the downtown building is around $153 million.

The downtown medical building would be located a mile from Amalie Area where the Lightning play. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

The downtown project could count on $130 million from state funding and donations, according to Lockwood. No additional state funding would be sought to make up the difference.

In February’s meeting with the BOG, USF Health officials proposed the downtown project. The presentation accounted for $62 million allocated for the Morsani College of Medicine, $50 million allocated for the Heart Institute and $23 million of private support in addition to an $18 million pledge from the Morsani family.

As to why the $50 million figure presented did not account for the $2.4 million spent on the Heart Institute main campus project, DeLotto Baier wrote to The Oracle in an email:

“The plan for the downtown facility included the full appropriation projected for the Heart Institute,” according to the statement. “If we obtain full approval of the downtown project any adjustments will be made based upon the actual funding available to meet the project/program scope.”

How much, if any, of the $2.4 million spent can be recuperated for an alternative purpose is another unknown.

***

In an interview with The Oracle, Funai said much of the money already spent on the Heart Institute could be used downtown.

“Some of the planning for the Heart Health Institute — conceptual, programming, what would be there, how much lab space — that easily translated to the downtown combined facility that we now have planned,” he said, adding the leveling of the land on the main campus would give any future projects a head start. 

However, a statement provided by DeLotto Baier did not mention costs being recuperated in the move downtown.

“Much of the necessary site preparation performed on the Tampa campus would be needed for any future construction at that site,” according to the statement. “In essence, the site work performed to date will be able to be used for any future project on that site and, therefore, the costs will be recaptured as savings in the coming project.”

As to whether the planning paid for by state funding could instead be used for another future project, a statement to The Oracle read: “Whatever funding has been or is appropriated by the Legislature will be spent within the confines of the appropriation.”

When asked where the funding used on planning the original Heart Institute project came from, a statement to The Oracle read: “The expenditures for the USF Health Heart Institute Project to date have been funded from funds that were appropriated for the project.”

***

Even if the $2.4 million cannot be entirely recuperated for one project or another, a Heart Institute in downtown may make up for it in short time.

A study, commissioned by the Association of American Medical Colleges, examined the economic benefits of publicly funded research. It concluded that every dollar of research funded generated $2.60 in local economic growth. 

Using that logic, the Heart Institute alone could stimulate Tampa’s economy by more than $72 million.

There might also be economic benefits for USF and its students. The university promised tuition and fees would not increase as a result of the move downtown. 

Within five years of completing a downtown medical building, USF Health also expects an additional $28 million in annual competitive grant revenue.

The funds are chiefly based on cooperation with a teaching hospital. The proximity to Tampa General will encourage a higher grant increase. The hospital has one of the busiest cardiology services in the U.S.

“We cannot recruit top physician scientists in cardiovascular medicine without that volume and without its proximity,” Lockwood said at February’s BOG presentation. “In addition to that, it allows our students and our fellows to be able to gain access to the research that is literally a water shuttle away or a bike ride away or a long walk away.”

Before the unanimous approval of the downtown medical school, BOG member Alan Levine addressed the room’s enthusiasm with words of caution.

“This isn’t the end of it. There are other issues that are going to come behind that there’s going to be a need for funding  … the pharmacy school and (Morsani College) facility to backfill. We’re talking probably somewhere in the range of $60 million overall,” Levine said. “Eyes wide open, we understand this isn’t the end. If we do this, we want it to be successful, but we also have to be prepared that down the road there’s going to be some more discussion about what’s coming.”