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Tampa Bay elite gathers to dedicate USF’s new Channel District med school

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A crowd filled with members of the Tampa Bay political and business elite, along with USF donors and members from the USF medical community congregated Tuesday morning where the USF College of Medicine and Healthy Heart Institute will be built in the city’s Channel District.

The medical facilities are the “anchors” of the massive development being envisioned by Strategic Property Partners, the development company owned by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, and Cascade Investment.

“For the record, as of this moment, Strategic Property Partners has built one tent,” Vinik quipped after receiving a standing ovation as he began his remarks. The crowd laughed lustily, but he was telling the truth.

For all of the expected success that the $2 billion Vinik grand plan is expected to bring to the area over the course of the next several years, there isn’t much to show besides a lot of dirt at the corner of Channelside Drive and Meridian Avenue in the 40 acres that his team was able to purchase in recent years near the Amalie Arena, though that undoubtedly should change over the course of the next few years.

Mentioning the physical assets that surround the area such as the arena, The Florida Aquarium, the Tampa Convention Center, the Tampa Bay History Museum, Vinik insisted that he was no visionary, but in fact a fortunate businessman who arrived at the right time and place to attempt to “changing hopefully the trajectory of this city and this entire area.”

Although he emphasizes that it’s not about him, Vinik isn’t nearly as self effacing about the project itself that he’s spearheading.

“If we have a reasonably good economic result out of this and get some vibrancy down here, what have we accomplished? Not that much,” he said. “The whole idea is to lift this entire region as best we can.”

At the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York City in September, Strategic Property Partners announced a partnership with the Delos Corp. to create the first WELL Certified city district in Tampa. The two organizations intend to invest more than $20 million specifically for health and wellness-focused, state-of-the-art technologies and design strategies for the project.

Vinik gave shout-outs to local legislators who have helped get financing for the project. A a number of state lawmakers sat in the front row under the large tent that hosted the news conference. They included Jeff Brandes, Dan Raulerson, Shawn Harrison, Dana Young, Ed Narain, former House Speaker Will Weatherford and, of course, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

In his remarks, Buckhorn thanked Gov. Rick Scott and the Republicans and Democrats in Tallahassee who were able to procure funding to help begin the process of construction of the USF medical building. “All of us joined together and put aside our differences, and said this matters for our community.”

In June, the state Legislature set aside $17 million in funding in the state budget to get the project started. The project has an anticipated cost of about $150 million, with that coming from a combination of private and state funding.

Once completed, the two facilities will become closer to Tampa General Hospital, USF’s main teaching hospital, and even closer to CAMLS, the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation. “The greater connectivity creates a world-class learning and research training environment for our students, faculty and staff,” USF President Judy Genshaft said.

The Morsani College of Medicine had a 24 percent increase in applications this past year, and Genshaft said USF officials think part of that has to do with the downtown center. In 2015, there were 5,000 applications for 170 slots.

Vinik said that the project is lucky to have a great anchor in USF.

“How much is this going to add to our district, in terms of the energy levels? Students, faculty, water taxis going over to TGH,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be prouder to have the university being a key part of his development.

In addition to the USF medical facilities, the project includes a new 500-room hotel, an officer tower and 200,000-square feet of shopping and entertainment space and renovations to the Waterside Marriott hotel and Chanelside Bay plaza.

The USF facility is expected to be open by early 2019.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at

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