The event, like the project itself, brought together the academic, the entrepreneurial and the political.
The University of South Florida gave a big thank you Tuesday to Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik for donating an acre of land for USF's new downtown medical school building.
"A new chapter for downtown Tampa," USF president Judy Genshaft told a crowd of several hundred at a celebration anticipating the transfer of the land from Strategic Property Partners, Vinik's development venture with Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates' Cascade Investment fund.
"By working together on every level," she said, "we are creating a vibrant center of learning and research that will eventually touch everyone's lives across the Tampa Bay region."
The land is at the northwest corner of Channelside Drive and Meridian Avenue. Strategic Property Partners expects to deed it to USF around the first of the year. Design of the medical school building, which is expected to be about 12 stories tall, with 330,000 square feet, probably will take about a year to complete before construction can begin.
When complete, the medical school building will put researchers and students minutes from their teaching hospital — Vinik talks about water taxis ferrying medical students to Tampa General — as well as from USF's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation.
Next door, Vinik and his partners plan to build a medical arts building for doctors' offices and health care-related businesses. Plans are still coming together, but it's been discussed as a $90 million project of 10 to 12 stories, with about 250,000 square feet of space, plus a garage.
For Vinik, providing the land for USF's medical school and heart institute seeds a $2 billion project that he and Cascade are preparing to launch at the southern end of downtown Tampa.
"Not only does location matter, but you need great anchors," Vinik said. "When you look at great anchors for our 40 acres, what better anchor is there than the USF school of medicine?"
Beyond that, Vinik and his partners plan a new 500-room hotel, 1,000 apartments or condominiums and at least one 600,000-square-foot office building, plus stores, cafes, bike paths and other amenities.
It's Tampa's largest and most ambitious project in decades, so it was no surprise that Vinik got a standing ovation as he took the stage in a tent put up on the site Tuesday.
Still, he asked for a little perspective.
"For the record, as of this moment, Strategic Property Partners has built one tent," Vinik said. "So, while I appreciate the accolades — come on!"
Still, USF administrators clearly want to build enthusiasm and momentum to carry the project forward, and they made a point of thanking past and present state legislators who have supported it over several years.
USF's medical school building is projected to cost about $152.6 million, with $40.5 million coming from the private sector and $112.1 million coming from the state.
So far, USF has received $57 million in state funds — $17 million during the last legislative session — and has raised another $18 million in private donations. The university is looking for another $22.5 million in project funding in the Legislature's 2016 spring session.
Since the downtown project was announced, applications to the medical school are up 24 percent, with more than 6,000 applicants seeking 170 slots, and their MCAT scores are the highest in the state.
Put that kind of talent in downtown Tampa, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said, and you will have "the intellectual capital that will drive this city for decades to come."
Contact Richard Danielson at email@example.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times