With funding directed to major downtown projects, Tampa Bay waking up to exciting news in state budget

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

It’s a great day in Tampa Bay.

Aided by a last-minute infusion of cash that went to projects backed by the state’s Republican leaders, Florida legislators late Monday night reached a deal on a nearly $80 billion budget for the state.

Included in the budget is money for several key projects in the downtowns of both St. Petersburg and Tampa, including $17 million for the relocation of the University of South Florida’s medical school.

With Tampa Bay lawmakers state Sen. Tom Lee and state Rep. Richard Corcoran shepherding the budget process for their respective chambers, it’s no surprise the region does well under the final agreement, much of which was pounded out in private meetings and out of the view of the public.

In addition to the money for the medical school move, $12.3 million is allocated for the USF St. Petersburg College of Business (nice work, Mike Corcoran and Corcoran & Johnston).

But USF is not the only Tampa Bay institution to benefit from lawmakers’ largesse: $2 million is budgeted for the Tampa Bay History Center and $1 million will go to capital improvements at the Tampa Theatre. The Temple Terrace Family Recreation Complex received $500,000, the University of Tampa Plant Museum even got in on the action with  a $61,000 line-item.

Still, it’s the money for the relocation of the medical school that is probably the biggest deal in the proposed budget. And not until late Monday night was it clear that the money would find its way into lawmakers’ budget spreadsheets. That’s when USF lobbyist Mark Walsh was able to update USF President Judy Genshaft with the good news.

Genshaft was “over the moon,” according to what Walsh told the Tampa Tribune’s James Rosica.

(Speaking of lobbyists, credit Brian Ballard of Ballard Partners and Ron Pierce of RSA Consulting for their work on helping to land this money.)

The medical school project, described by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn as “bigger than baseball,” will be the centerpiece of Jeff Vinik’s redevelopment of the Channel District.

“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 said in December. 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.”

“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.

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.

Winning the money for the project had to be bittersweet for Vinik, who, only hours earlier in the day, watched his Tampa Bay Lightning lose in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this post.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.