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USF projects make it to state budget

Though Florida lawmakers made quite a few last-minute decisions on multimillion dollar projects within this year’s budget, this did not prevent USF from receiving more than $29 million in state funding.

Shortly before midnight on Monday, legislators in Tallahassee agreed to appropriate $17 million in Florida’s newly proposed state budget for relocating USF’s Morsani College of Medicine to its expected downtown Tampa home on the corner of Meridian Avenue and Channelside Drive.

USF did not, however, receive its requested $15.75 million for completing the planned USF Health Heart Institute, which is currently planned to be housed in the same building as the College of Medicine per Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s billion-dollar vision to revamp the downtown area.

While the Heart Institute received no money from the newly proposed state budget, Mark Walsh, USF assistant vice president for government relations, said this won’t impact the construction timeline. 

“Because the Heart Institute has been funded for three prior (legislative) sessions in a row, it now has (funding) of about $35 million,” Walsh said. “Whereas Morsani has only been provided $5 million to begin the planning of the facility, it has never had a construction level appropriation from the state.”

Walsh said the new $17 million for moving the College of Medicine also marks a milestone in USF’s request for funding USF Health downtown.

“When you add the two projects together with the $35 million we have for (the) Heart (Institute) already, the $5 million we have for Morsani and this $17 million, we’ll be across the halfway threshold for our requests for state funds for the downtown (USF Health) facility,” he said.

According to a recent Tampa Bay Times article, construction of the building is expected to begin by the end of 2016.

Walsh said state lawmakers also delegated $12.3 million for completing the construction of USF St. Petersburg’s Kate Tiedemann College of Business, $6 million for the construction of a new Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO) research vessel and $5 million in recurring funds for the Florida Center for Cybersecurity housed at USF.

He said the USF St. Petersburg’s Kate Tiedemann College of Business has received funding for two years prior, and it needed this appropriation to stay on track for its anticipated completion date. As a result, the USF Board of Trustees prioritized the college’s construction over the downtown medical school project in its 2015 top legislative priorities.

“(The college) is already underway, and it needed the funding just to stay on track, whereas (with the) downtown (project), we’re happy for the funding so we can get started on it,” he said. “(The USFSP facility) will be 100 percent built, funded and open for students in the fall of 2016.”

As for the FIO’s new funding, the allotted $6 million would replace the institute’s 40-year-old R/V Bellows with a new research vessel at the College of Marine Science in St. Petersburg. The ship would be owned by USF and available for use by branch campuses.

Of course, the appropriation of these funds depends on the final vote by Florida legislators expected on Friday and Gov. Rick Scott’s signature.

While the Legislature has not made its final decision, USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said he is pleased with the results and the university can now focus on the construction of these projects.

“For now, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Wilcox said.


–— Additional reporting by Alex Rosenthal