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Downtown medical school timeline in hot water

What had begun to look like a slam dunk for USF could be in trouble in the middle of the special session of the Florida Legislature, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Funding for the medical school the university hopes to build in downtown Tampa, with the help of Lighting owner Jeff Vinik, could be at a standstill as state senators debate how to raise the funds. 

Some, including the Florida House of Representatives, have advocated for borrowing on the bond market. Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Senate disagree, citing the negative impact borrowing would have on the state debt level.

According to Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, it is unlikely that the state will give as much money to the university as the borrowing would provide. 

The Times reported the cost of the downtown medical campus will be between $150 million and $163 million. The buildings will be constructed on land donated by Vinik as part of his $1 billion plan to reinvigorate Tampa’s downtown.

USF is seeking $17 million for the Morsani College of Medicine and $15.75 million for the USF Health Heart Institute from state funding. However, according to the Times, the sum may be too high because the university is also looking for $12.3 million to finish construction on the 68,000 square-foot Kate Tiedemann College of Business building on the USF St. Pete campus. 

According to a Times article from October of last year, before the plans were approved by the USF Board of Trustees, the university expected at least $130 million in donations and state contribution to fund the project.

There is disagreement in the Legislature, though, because many feel borrowing is a bad idea that will only serve to increase the debt. Scott is among those in opposition to the idea of borrowing. 

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is in favor of the downtown project and said he believes it will continue to be “perceived positively” by members of the Legislature. 

“I think (Scott) recognizes what an economic boost it would be for downtown,” Buckhorn said in an interview with the Times. 

For the time being, USF will have to wait to see how much the state is willing to give. With enough state contribution, the university can move forward with construction as soon as the fall. Otherwise, the university may have to sit back down and wait until the next legislative funding cycle.