In December of 2011, Frank and Carol Morsani gave $20 million to the University of South Florida for a brand new medical college that would bear the name of the Tampa auto dealer and his wife.
But the multi-story, 319,000 square foot facility isn’t being built on USF’s north Tampa campus. It’s going up as a cornerstone of Water Street Tampa, a $3 billion dollar development of 50 acres downtown.
In 2014, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said a downtown medical school could be bigger than moving the Tampa Bay Rays to his side of the bay.
Three years later, the mayor spoke at a recent event marking the beginning of construction. Buckhorn, who happens to be married to Dr. Catherine Lynch, an Associate Vice President of USF Health, hasn’t changed his mind about the school’s importance to Tampa.
“Look at what we are on the verge of. Look at what this university has become. Look at what this medical school is becoming. Look at what this district is going to be. Five years, ten years from now, you’re not going to recognize this city,” Buckhorn said.
Water Street is designed by Strategic Property Partners, the real estate firm backed by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik and Cascade Investment. Their goal is to create a district where people will live, work, and play.
But the location means more than that to USF’s students. System President Judy Genshaft points out that, right now, the university is just one of three of the top 100 med schools in the country not located near a teaching hospital. That will change with the new school being just minutes from Tampa General Hospital.
“And we’re going to be proud when we leave that three and they become two and we’re downtown right next to the major teaching hospital where we can just take a boat taxi over," Genshaft said.
That proximity is something first year med student Tilman Chambers looked at when he applied to USF. He’s among the first group of students who will use the new building when it opens in 2019.
"We’re going to be the first class to really get to go through it and really spend some times in the classrooms, so we’re all really excited about it," Chambers said. "I know a lot of people that are buying condos downtown, they’re really ready to move down here. The USF area up in north Tampa is really nice, but it’s really nice to have our own space down here."
And Med School Council Student Body President Rose Tillis adds that students finishing up their medical school experience like she is also are excited.
"I know that people that are in my year especially are considering this in consideration of our residency application. So, it’s a good reason to stay in Tampa and I think it’s definitely important," she said.
(view a live webcam of the construction of the Morsani College of Medicine & Heart Institute here)
The building can house around 2,300 students, faculty and researchers. With applications for the 170 student slots jumping 60 percent in the last four years to almost 6,400 this year, Morsani College of Medicine Dean, Doctor Charly Lockwood, is working on finding the new teachers and investigators needed for both medical college and Heart Institute.
"So we’ve had spectacular success with recruiting students and with recruiting NIHS-funded investigators and with building our clinical services at Tampa General that will be the base, the foundation for the kind of cardiovascular heart researchers that we will have in that building,” Lockwood said.
Of the $153 million estimated to be needed for the new building, around $110 million has been raised through state funding and the Morsani’s original donation six years ago. This coming legislative session, USF officials expect to ask for an additional $21 million.