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USF campuses in St. Pete and Tampa still celebrating budget wins

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

One of the big winners out of last week’s budget signing by Florida Gov. Rick Scott was the University of South Florida, which received $12 million in funding for its Kate Tiedemann College of Business building on its St. Petersburg campus, and for the $17 million it received toward the construction of the Morsani College of Medicine building to be built in Tampa developer Jeff Vinik’s $1 billion project in the Channelside area.

USF intends to house two buildings in the one acre of primetime real estate offered to them by Vinik — The Morsani College of Medicine, and the USF Heart Health Institute. However the Heart Institute was shut out of the $15.75 million it was seeking for funding.

“We consider it great news,” says Mark Walsh, USF’s executive director of university partnerships, about garnering the money for the Morsani building, which will be located at the intersection of Channelside Drive and Meridian avenues. “Probably the biggest hurdle was getting Morsani to the point where we could begin moving on it, and that is what our local legislators came through for and the governor approved. We’re very grateful, so we this thing as right on schedule.”

On schedule for USF means continuing to raise money privately as well as ultimately receive a total of $62 million in funding from the state over the course over the next several legislative cycles.

Although originally projected to stand next to each other, Walsh says the buildings will now be stacked upon each other as one single facility. USF officials project about 600-700 medical school students to be working out of the building, “and there may be additional students from other USF Health programs,” suggests USF spokesman Adam Freeman.

In February, the state Board of Governors approved USF’s request to build its new USF Health medical school and heart institute in downtown Tampa. USF’s Mark Walsh says that officials will have to go back before the BOG in a meeting scheduled for September, but he says that is to get academic approval, and not for any more funding. “We will submit that for a final documentation approval for them to be able to open a new education site in downtown,” he says.

Walsh adds that when USF President Judy Genshaft and other USF officials went before the Board of Governors earlier this year, they committed to raise $41 million in private donations that would supplement the cost of the downtown project. $18 million of those funds have been raised, and he says that “we have a lot other potential donors who I think wanted to wait to see what happened in the legislative session, but we feel pretty good that we can raise that amount of money as long as it appears the project is moving forward, which now we have.”

No one is more ecstatic about the ultimate move by USF than Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who fired off a statement last week that “The new school will anchor the new development set to transform our southern downtown waterfront. Students, researchers and medical professionals will now have immediate access to Tampa General Hospital in addition to the amenities that downtown has to offer.”

Organizers with Vinik’s team recently said they hope to start work on roads, plumbing and other infrastructure for the project sometime later this summer.

If all goes well with USF’s funding, the Morsani College of Medicine and the Heart Health Institute will be up and running by the fall of 2018.

While the governor approved the $17 million for USF, he did the exact opposite for a plan for a downtown Orlando campus for the University of Central Florida, in what appeared to be rebuke to Senate President Andy Gardiner. The  $15 million project had already been approved by lawmakers when Scott vetoed it last week. Gardiner led the Senate in attempting to pass Medicaid expansion, a project vehemently opposed by the Florida House and Gov. Scott.

“It cost Central Florida a lot of projects. Just about everything important to the Senate president got vetoed,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer last week, in reference to Scott’s vetoing over $40 million of projects in the Orlando area. 

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 mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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