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USF trustees vote unanimously to build medical school at Channelside

Plans call for the Morsani College of Medicine and the USF Heart Health Institute to be in a 12-story building at Channelside Drive and S Meridian Avenue in downtown Tampa. The land was donated by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

Plans call for the Morsani College of Medicine and the USF Heart Health Institute to be in a 12-story building at Channelside Drive and S Meridian Avenue in downtown Tampa. The land was donated by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

TAMPA — The University of South Florida reshaped the future of downtown on Thursday.

Later this month, it will be Jeff Vinik's turn.

USF's board of trustees voted unanimously to build a 12-story tower to house the new Morsani College of Medicine and the USF Heart Health Institute in downtown Tampa.

"This is our rendezvous with destiny," said Dr. Charles Lockwood, the senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the medical school, who was paraphrasing Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The urban campus will be built on land donated by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, the former Wall Street star who has amassed a great swath of downtown around the Amalie Arena and plans a "billion-dollar" redevelopment of the area.

Vinik attended the meeting and addressed the trustees in support of the downtown medical school plan. He was treated like a visiting head of state and sat with the trustees, not the audience.

During his remarks, Vinik announced that he'll finally share his plans for downtown with the public on Dec. 17.

"We are trying to do something absolutely incredible for the city of Tampa," Vinik said. "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.

"What other city has this opportunity to offer?"

The next step for USF comes in January: The university must ask for state funding from the Florida Board of Governors, which meets Jan. 21-22 at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

The total cost of the new medical tower was estimated to be between $150 million and $163 million. USF believes it has up to $130 million already lined up, which includes state funding already set aside for the heart institute and medical school. Those were separate projects for the main campus that are now being combined into one downtown development. But USF needs the Legislature to come through with the rest of the state funding for the medical school, and that means going through the governors.

That would still leave the project short by up to $30 million. USF officials said they won't ask the state to help with the shortfall and will instead look for donations to make up the difference.

The university's move downtown had plenty of high-level support: the trustees, Vinik, super-donors Frank and Carol Morsani (for whom the medical school was named), USF president Judy Genshaft and Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

"This is the right decision at the right time for USF and for Tampa," said the mayor in a statement.

Lockwood briefed the trustees on why he believes an urban medical campus would be a boon to the university and the city. He said many universities are building urban medical schools around the country. By doing the same, USF could make the Morsani College of Medicine more competitive for top students and faculty.

"This generation of medical students, and future generations, want to be in urban environments," Lockwood said. "It's why so many medical schools want to be in downtown."

The dean said that the new heart institute could help attract millions in new research dollars. The move downtown would also allow USF to expand nursing and other programs on the main campus, allowing it to train more nurses and do more research.

The project could have an annual statewide economic output of $215 million, the dean said, and create 1,400 new jobs — with most of that impact in Hillsborough County.

"We would act as an economic development anchor for Tampa," Lockwood said.

University and city officials hope that Thursday's decision could also plant the seeds to one day turn downtown Tampa into a hub for medical education, research and treatment.

USF's teaching partner, Tampa General Hospital, is nearby and so is the university's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, also known as CAMLS.

Vinik's ownership group, Strategic Property Partners, also pledged to build a medical office building next door to USF's new medical tower and an 1,800-car parking garage behind both buildings along Cumberland Avenue.

A downtown medical campus would be the kind of high-end development that Vinik wants to add to his plans to revive the southern end of downtown Tampa with new apartments, condos, hotels, restaurants and shops.

He also said that he's still trying to attract a major corporation to move its headquarters there. But Vinik said USF brings something a corporation can't: "youth" and "vibrancy."

"We want to bring to life the southern core business district of downtown Tampa," Vinik said.

Contact Jamal Thalji at thalji@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji

USF trustees vote unanimously to build medical school at Channelside 12/04/14 [Last modified: Friday, December 26, 2014 8:41am]
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