Construction officially begins on new facility for Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute (video)

Inside Amalie Arena, and with a view above the bustling construction site across the street, USF leaders, friends and supporters from throughout the region gathered to mark the start of construction of the new USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.

Called Dig This!, the morning event was held Sept 20 on the upper floors of Amalie Arena. Guests met inside to hear remarks, and then gathered outside on a balcony to view from above the future home of the USF medical school and research facility at Channelside Drive and Meridian Avenue.

USF System President Judy Genshaft set the celebratory tone of the morning as she welcomed everyone.

“This celebration symbolizes the University of South Florida’s commitment to the city, the region, and the state,” Genshaft said. “The construction is happening!”

She highlighted the forward momentum this project is giving many in the region, including USF.

USF System President Judy Genshaft

“A project of this magnitude moves forward because of the commitment of so many of our partners, and this is an outstanding example of the private and public sectors coming together to benefit the Tampa Bay region,” she said. “When this is complete in 2019, the result will be improved health outcomes through superior education, training, and research. We are creating a future that will attract and retain the brightest students and physicians, something we’re already seeing. USF has become the most selective medical school in the state of Florida, with applications growing 60 percent since this project was first announced in 2014. We actually had over 6,000 applications to our medical school for only 170 slots.”

The USF Health building will be a key anchor in a $3-billion real estate development by Strategic Property Partners, the joint venture between Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment, LLC. The group is developing 53 acres in downtown Tampa into a multi-use, urban waterfront district that will promote a walkable, sustainable, healthy environment for downtown Tampa residents, workers, students and visitors.

At the Dig This! Event, Vinik reminded everyone that USF helped launch the entire Water Street Tampa district.

Jeff Vinik

“The idea for the Morsani College of Medicine coming downtown was conceived long before anything else – it was the first, it was the catalyst,” Vinik said. “And what a catalyst it has been. USF was the first building to be thought about and the first building to have a groundbreaking. So it makes perfect sense that it’s the first building under construction, and it will be the first building completed in this district two years from now.”

Placing the medical school in downtown will change the city forever, said Florida Senator Dana Young.

Florida Senator Dana Young

“Tampa is on fire and I think much of it is because of this wonderful vision of Tampa as the up-and-coming city,” Young said. “And now to have this medical school downtown to anchor what is going to be a complete transformation of our downtown will be a complete transformation of how we live… People living together, people eating together, working together and talking about the future of health care in Tampa and in our country.”

The new location brings the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine in closer proximity to its primary teaching and clinical affiliate, Tampa General Hospital, and to its flagship Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS). Skanska/HOK is the design/build team constructing the new USF facility that is expected to cost at least $153 million. The investment strengthens USF’s presence in downtown Tampa and will contribute to the area’s continued rapid growth and national recognition, a point emphasized by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn

“This is the beginning of that next chapter in this city that is becoming the place in America where the best and the brightest want to be,” Buckhorn said. “It’s becoming that place where talent comes. It’s becoming that place where intellectual capital is the currency of the marketplace… 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 from now, 10 years from now, you’re not going to recognize this city.”

Several medical students were also at the Dig This! event, and U.S. Representative Kathy Castor acknowledged them, asking them to come forward and be recognized.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor

“In my position, I have opportunities to interact with a lot of these young medical students, and they are remarkable,” Castor said. “This is a new breed of talented students. They have all the tools of technology and innovation at their fingertips, unlike ever before. And now they will have a facility and partnerships that are equal to their talents and passions. If you ever have an opportunity to talk with these students you will understand the passion they have. There is no greater inspiration for what you all have invested in.”

Turning to the students, Castor added “Because we are doing this for you.”

USF’s newest state-of-the-art facility will combine under one roof a medical school to teach the next generation of physicians and a cardiovascular research institute to pioneer new discoveries for heart health. Recent accomplishments have USF well on its way to fulfilling this goal, said Charles J. Lockwood, MD, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine.

Dr. Charles Lockwood

“It has all come together in such a magnificent way, but you can’t just build a building and then fill it,” Dr. Lockwood said. “We have made a lot of strides in the last four years. We have increased applications from 3,900 to 6,358 this time around. Our MCAT scores have gone from the 80th percentile to the highest ever this year at the 92nd – and a half – percentile, the highest in the state. We have worked really hard on the research side, too. We have increased our total funding, this includes our faculty at Moffitt, from about $127 million to roughly $212 million.”

Dr. Lockwood also noted USF’s success in – recruiting top-tier faculty, including cardiovascular scientists and founding Heart Institute Director Sam Wickline, who “embodies the entrepreneurial spirit that is the DNA of our school.”

USF’s cardiology programs have also blossomed, Dr. Lockwood said.

“We’ve gone from six to 40 cardiologists at Tampa General, we have built one of the top cardiac surgery programs in the country, one of the busiest heart transplant programs in the country, and our lung transplant program has doubled in the last year,” Dr. Lockwood said.

In summing up, he added, “We have great partners, and we really are poised to fill that building with great students and great researchers. You can tell I’m a little excited about this opportunity, and I’m incredibly grateful to this community and Tampa General and to my wonderful university.”

With that, the guests made their way to the balcony for a group shot overlooking the busy construction site, where a USF Bull flag flew in the breeze.

Visit the USF Water Street Tampa website for more information about the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute project.

Story by Sarah Worth, video by Sandra C. Roa, and photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications