The University of South Florida will ask lawmakers for an additional $21 million to complete funding for its downtown Tampa medical school and heart institute.
The state already has provided $91 million, including $12 million in construction funds in the current budget, for the Morsani College of Medicine and USF Heart Institute.
In a news conference Wednesday in Tampa marking the start of construction for the 319,000-square-foot, multi-story facility, USF President Judy Genshaft said the project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2019, has spurred more than a 60 percent increase in medical school applications and is helping the university attract more research funding.
The strategy behind moving the medical school from USF's main campus on the north side of Tampa to downtown was to position it closer to Tampa General Hospital, the primary teaching facility for doctors in training. The new location is also near USF's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, another highly regarded training facility.
“The result really will be improved health outcomes through superior education, training and research,” Genshaft said. “We are creating a future that will attract and retain the brightest students and physicians.”
Since USF officials and Tampa leaders began discussing the downtown medical facility four years ago, applications to the medical school have jumped from 3,900 to 6,358 for 170 slots, said Charles Lockwood, the USF medical school dean. He also said newly accepted students have the highest medical entrance exam scores in the state.
The downtown medical school will be co-located with the USF Heart Institute, which seeks to combine medical researchers with practicing cardiologists who can test or use newly developed therapies to help heart patients.
“You can't just build a building and fill it,” Lockwood said. “You have to do a little homework in preparation for that. We have made a lot of strides in the last four years.”
A key hire was the appointment last year of Samuel Wickline, a nationally renowned cardiologist and researcher, to lead the USF Heart Institute. Wickline's research draws more than $1 million a year in funding from the National Institutes of Health, and he has created four biotechnology companies in his past positions.
“He embodies the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that is the DNA of our school,” Lockwood said.
The USF medical school and heart institute building is the first project in the much larger “Water Street Tampa” development, which involves a $3 billion investment and 9 million square feet of new construction of commercial, residential, retail, hospitality and entertainment space in downtown Tampa.
“What a catalyst it has been,” Jeffrey Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team and a leader in the Water Street project, said about the USF facility.
Vinik said although the USF building is the first Water Street project, the developers have a goal of completing some 4.5 million square feet of construction by the time Tampa hosts the Super Bowl in 2021.
USF's request for $21 million for the medical facility construction will be debated during the 2018 legislative session, which starts in January.
Last year, the Board of Governors, which oversees the 12 state universities, supported a $16.6 million funding request for the project, although the amount was whittled down to $12 million in state budget negotiations.
The overall cost of the downtown medical school and heart institute is projected at $153 million. Although the state is expected to provide some $112 million, the remainder will come from other USF funding sources, including an $18 million donation by Frank and Carol Morsani.