The Florida university system can set the stage this week for making the Tampa Bay region a healthier and more prosperous community. The Board of Governors, which oversees the state's universities, will consider a request Thursday to allow the University of South Florida to build its new medical school in downtown Tampa. The idea has tremendous potential for urban renewal, economic development and public health, and the board should embrace it.
USF wants to build a 12-story building in downtown's Channel District that would house a new Morsani College of Medicine and a heart institute. The university seized the opportunity to move them from USF's main campus in north Tampa to downtown after Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik offered the land as part of his larger plan to build a mixed community of offices, residents, shops and parks on 40 acres he owns or controls.
As the body that sets priorities for state universities, the Board of Governors will play a key role in getting this vision off the ground. USF wants the board to bless the project as a first step in acquiring $57 million in state money toward the effort over the next several years. While the Legislature and governor will have final say over the budget, the board's recommendation will carry great weight. Thursday's meeting is a chance for the board to send a strong, clear message that a medical school downtown is right for USF, taxpayers and the broader community.
A downtown site would put the medical students and faculty closer to USF's main teaching hospital, Tampa General, giving the two partners a stronger base to improve access to health care. It would act as a magnet to attract new research and investment in the biomedical industry. With a $1 billion price tag, Vinik's plan is well capitalized and offers the medical school a good home for the future. And the location in the hottest new part of a rapidly modernizing city center will only further raise USF's profile. The university's reputation edged up again Tuesday with the announcement that alumna Lynn Pippenger contributed $10 million this year, bringing her total donations to $22 million and making her the namesake of USF's School of Accountancy.
The city of Tampa has already signaled its strong support for the Vinik plan. It has committed a first installment of $15 million to upgrade the roads, sewers and other area infrastructure that would also benefit the medical school. And by strengthening ties with business leaders like Vinik, USF would make new and deeper connections in the corporate and philanthropic worlds.
The Board of Governors should welcome the next chapter of this continuing success by endorsing the project and urging the Legislature and governor to allocate the money needed for the downtown medical school.