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Tampa philanthropist Kiran Patel plans medical school for Clearwater Christian College site

Dr. Kiran Patel plans to open an osteopathic medical school on the site of the former Clearwater Christian College.
Published Dec. 23, 2016

CLEARWATER — Health care executive and philanthropist Kiran Patel has purchased the former Clearwater Christian College property with plans to develop an osteopathic medical school on the 25-acre campus overlooking Old Tampa Bay.

Patel, chairman of Tampa-based Freedom Health, closed on the $12 million purchase at the west end of the Courtney Campbell Causeway on Thursday, he confirmed.

He plans to develop the Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, catering to both domestic and international students, especially from India and Africa, who otherwise could not afford medical training. One goal, he said, is to train doctors who can return to their home countries and treat underserved communities.

"It is not easy — there are a lot of challenges — but if somebody's heart is there and doing the right thing, the right results will follow," Patel said.

Patel said he plans to have the school open to serve 100 to 150 students by September 2018 or early 2019 after the credentialing and certification process.

Osteopathy focuses on the muscular and skeletal systems through massage and other physical manipulation, and more than 20 percent of U.S. medical students are training to become osteopathic physicians.

Patel estimates it could cost $50 million to launch the school, most of which will come from his own pockets, although having existing classroom infrastructure and dormitories significantly reduces costs.

The private Clearwater Christian College, founded in 1966, shuttered last year amid dwindling enrollment, increased debt and a lack of endowments.

In July, the city of Clearwater purchased the 111 acres of wetlands and submerged lands surrounding the campus for preservation and restoration projects.

A 2011 settlement deal between the college and three plaintiffs prevented development of the marsh and requires the wetland to "remain in its existing natural condition forever." But the city made the $1.36 million purchase fearing a future buyer would have ignored the wetlands and not conducted much-needed restoration.

Mayor George Cretekos described Patel's proposed development as a "boom for the city."

"I think it's a good fit and goes with what we were wanting to see with that property," Cretekos said. "The potential to benefit the entire area is just amazing."

Born to Indian parents, Patel grew up in Zambia and attended medical school in India, where he met his wife, Pallavi Patel. The couple moved to Tampa in 1982 and has since donated millions to local causes, including $26 million to the University of South Florida; $5 million for a conservatory at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts; and $3 million for a research institute at Florida Hospital Tampa. They've built hospitals in India and Zambia.

In 2014, Patel broke ground on the $175 million, 448-room Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach resort, expected to open next month.

Along with his college project in Clearwater, Patel said he is also in the early stages of building a 120-acre university in India called the Drs. Kiran and Pallavi Global University.

He said the projects combine his passions for health education and charity. In his first venture in running a university, he hopes to fulfill a need for competent doctors in the area while also educating generations of physicians who can serve in underprivileged areas across the globe.

"Nobody believed I would build a hotel on Clearwater Beach," he said. "They say 'a dumb doctor.' I never built a hotel single-handedly but we overcame that so I'm optimistic we will be successful here."

Times staff writer Susan Taylor Martin contributed to this report. Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

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