USF trustees approve new medical facility in downtown Tampa

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Superlatives rolled off the tongues of members of USF’s board of trustees this morning, all in praise of the plan they voted on unanimously that calls for the creation of a new urban medical campus in downtown Tampa.

That will include the new Morsani College of Medicine, the USF Heart Health Institute, a separate medical building for administrative and clinical functions and a large parking facility. “For USF and Tampa, this will be our rendezvous with destiny,” said Dr. Charles Lockwood, the senior VP of USF Health and dean of the medical school. Lockwood is calling it one of the greatest economic redevelopment projects in the history of the region.

The total cost estimate? Around $157 million, not including the cost of shelled floors, which if included would allow for expansion of the project.

Lockwood said that the new medical facility would bring an economic output of $215 million to the state, with $165 million of that staying in Hillsborough County. He added that it would bring in 1,467 jobs to the state, with over 1,000 of those in the county.

Following Lockwood to the dais to address the trustees and a packed audience was Tampa Bay Lighting owner Jeff Vinik. After opening with some pleasantries about the positive relationship between his organization and USF, he said he wanted to get to the matter at hand.

“The Lighting are in first place,” he deadpanned, as the trustees ate it up. Then again, they ate up everything Vinik had to say, and why not? It’s extremely unlikely such a vote would even be occurring if it weren’t for Vinik’s largesse in offering to provide one acre of his vast new holdings in the Channelside area for the medical facility, a facility that USF President Judy Genshaft had said would not happen without the land being donated.

Vinik’s recent purchase of real estate in the Channelside area has been considered a positive game-changer for Tampa and Hillsborough County. Vinik told the trustees how a new medical facility works perfectly with his vision for making the region around the moribund shopping center and Amalie Arena a dynamic space that will busy 24/7. Actually, he amended that to “18/7,” saying there will be some housing in his plans for the area, and those folks will need to be able to sleep. Other parts of the plan include retail a hotel, and meeting space.  He said he preferred to talk only about the medical center today, with a press conference scheduled for December 17 to tell the public more about his plans for the area.

“In terms of our billion dollar development downtown, we think they will be a key anchor tenant of ours, we have a great partnership with the school, and they’re going to add youth and experience and vibrancy, and it is a very critical piece of what we’re trying to do with all of our real estate,” Vinik told reporters after the vote. He said the medical facility will help attract other corporations to locate downtown, and specifically he’s trying to recruit one such company to be part of the 30 acres of land that some are now dubbing, “Vinikville.”

“We’ve already had expressions of interest,” he said. “It’s a long process, recruiting a corporate headquarters, but we are going to be determined. We have the support of leaders in this community, and we think we can make it happen.”

In his presentation, USF’s Lockwood said that the rationale for a new medical building includes the fact that the current structure on the North Tampa campus is an aging, 40-year-old facility lacking modern classroom functionality. He said such a move downtown would bring in “at least” $28 million a year in additional National Institutes of Health research expenditures, and of course it brings it closer to Tampa General Hospital and CAMLS, the medical training facility on Franklin Street that opened two  years ago.

He did say that there were some negative aspects of moving downtown, such as it will require some duplication of services, like a library, fitness facilities and food services. And it may limit interactions with nurses and public health students who remain at the main campus in North Tampa.

One of Vinik’s biggest fans is Mayor Bob Buckhorn. In a statement released after the trustee’s vote, the mayor said in a statement, “Make no mistake that this is a bold step. Relocating to downtown Tampa gives USF an opportunity to be even more competitive in recruiting students, faculty, and researchers while enhancing the learning experience for its medical students. This is the right decision at the right time for USF and for Tampa.”

 The plan now has to go before the Florida Board of Governors for final approval. They are scheduled to meet next month.

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.