TAMPA — Dozens of workers in hard hats and boots were busy at work at the corner of South Meridian Avenue and Channelside Drive Wednesday morning, signaling the start of construction on the University of South Florida's new Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute. USF medical students, staff, donors and board members joined Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and a slew of local politicians and real estate developers to celebrate what will be the first part of Water Street Tampa, a $3 billion redevelopment project expected to span 50-plus acres in downtown Tampa. USF President Judy Genshaft said the medical school and cardiovascular institute will be a key anchor for the district. PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Five big projects in Tampa; five big problems looming "I like to talk about our accomplishments that have actually happened, not just what's to come in the future," she said to a group that gathered at Amalie Arena Wednesday morning, across the street from the medical school construction site. "And construction is happening. This symbolizes our commitment to the city, the region and the state." Strategic Property Partners, the real estate firm backed by Vinik and Bill Gates' Cascade Investment, is spearheading the development, which will include new hotels, office towers, apartments and condominiums, as well as parks, stores, restaurants and other public spaces. The first phase of construction is expected to get underway this fall. But Vinik said that the "state-of-the-art USF facility" will be the district's crown jewel. "It's a catalyst for this project, and something we've been talking about for a long time. We were discussing the medical school five-plus years ago, long before we had a master plan for the district," Vinik said. PREVIOUS COVERAGE: USF releases renderings of new Morsani College of Medicine building in downtown Tampa The $153 million building is expected to open in late 2019. The university plans to seek $21.3 million from the state during the coming legislative session, which would bring the state's share of the project to $112 million. The remaining costs will be funded through private donations and other revenue sources from USF, the university says. The building also will bring USF medical students physically closer to Tampa General Hospital on Davis Island, which is the university's primary teaching and clinical affiliate. Also nearby is USF's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation. Genshaft said USF has become the most selective medical school in Florida, receiving 6,000 applications this year for just 170 spots. "We are committed to being a program that attracts and retains the brightest minds in medicine and will continue to do so in the future," she said. Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.