More big votes on tap for USF's downtown medical school proposal

Published Jan. 21, 2015

TAMPA — The movement to build the University of South Florida's next medical school inside Jeff Vinik's downtown redevelopment project has scored two wins at home.

Now it needs to win on the road.

USF's proposal needs $62 million in state funding. That must be approved by the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System.

The board is set to hold two votes on the proposal when it meets today and Thursday at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

If the idea wins both votes this week, then it will move up the chain of command to the Florida Legislature for final approval. The 2015 session is set to start on March 3.

"Until the votes have been cast," said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, "I never take anything for granted."

The project was endorsed in October by a committee of USF trustees that oversees the university's medical operations. Buckhorn helped pitch the idea.

Then in December, Vinik himself appeared before the full board of trustees when it gave its approval.

Buckhorn, Vinik, USF president Judy Genshaft and Dr. Charles Lockwood, the dean of USF's medical school, will all be on hand today in case the governors' facilities committee needs convincing as well.

That committee considers all the state's higher education capital projects like USF's urban medical school and the University of Central Florida's proposed downtown Orlando campus.

The local delegation won't make a PowerPoint presentation, but it will show its support, answer questions and, if allowed, address the committee.

The facilities committee will decide which projects get funded and for how much. On Thursday, the full Board of Governors will vote on the package of capital projects put together by the committee. Only Genshaft and Lockwood will be there for that.

"The board will make a recommendation or endorsement to the Legislature," state university system spokeswoman Brittany Davis said. "Then the Legislature will decide what to do with the board's legislative request."

So far there's been no sign of any opposition to the project, which also has the support of bay area legislators.

The estimated cost of USF's 12-story medical tower is $150 to $163 million. It needs $62 million from the state that was pledged for the new medical school before officials decided to move it to the downtown site.

The new building can also count on $50 million in state funding already earmarked for the USF Heart Health Institute, a new initiative originally planned for the main campus that is now a part of USF's downtown project.

Donors Frank and Carol Morsani also pledged $20 million for the proposal. Altogether, the university believes it has up to $132 million in funding. It will have to come up with the rest through fundraising.

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Vinik has donated an acre of his downtown property for USF's new medical school, and pledged to build a medical tower and parking garage next door.

The medical school is one of the cornerstone's of Vinik's $1 billion plan to redevelop downtown Tampa's waterfront. It could be the first new building to rise by 2017.

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