Topping off celebrates milestone in construction of new USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute

On a warm, breezy November day, an 800-pound white beam was slowly lifted skyward by a construction crane, marking another milestone in USF’s history – the topping off of the 13-story USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute in downtown Tampa.

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A construction crew hoisted the 20-foot long, 800-pound beam into the air and and placed it on top the 13-story Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute building in downtown Tampa.

Below, as the USF Fight Song played on, a crowd of university and community leaders, elected officials, faculty and medical students – with cell phone cameras aimed skyward — watched the ascent of the beam bearing a green USF Bulls topiary and gently flapping flags on either end.  Many had earlier signed the steel beam at the Nov. 14 topping-off celebration, an event traditionally held when the last beam is placed, signifying completion of the building’s exterior structure.

The beam was placed at the top of the 13-story, 395,000-square-foot building shortly before noon, culminating the morning’s topping-off program held under a tent in Water Street Tampa, a $3-billion real estate development by Strategic Property Partners (SPP), the joint venture of Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investments, LLC.   USF Health’s iconic building, scheduled to open in late 2019, is a key anchor for SPP’s transformative downtown waterfront district.

From left: Calvin Williams, USF System vice president for administrative services; USF System President Judy Genshaft; and Dr. Charles Lockwood, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine.

“Today we are celebrating a momentous occasion — the topping-off of one of the most significant projects ever to be completed in USF System history,” said USF System President Judy Genshaft.

“This project belongs to all of us, and would not be possible if it were not for the incredible support of visionary Tampa Bay and state leaders.  It is staggering in its impact — in terms of academic, research and economic significance.”

Guests gathered under a tent set up in the heart of Water Street Tampa for the topping-off celebration.

Once complete, the building will house more than 1,800 students, faculty, researchers and staff — equipping them with world-class labs, technologically advanced lecture halls and learning spaces, and research facilities to help shape the next generations of physicians and pioneer new discoveries for cardiovascular health.

The new state-of-the-art hub for medical education and research is located in close proximity to USF’s primary teaching hospital, Tampa General Hospital, and its world-class Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS) facility.  It will be a key driver of economic activity for the Tampa Bay area by helping to generate a substantial increase in research grant funding, attract new biotechnology companies to the region and position USF to move up in the U.S. News & World Report rankings.

Dr. Lockwood signs the beam before the topping-off celebration in Water Street Tampa.

Charles J. Lockwood, MD, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, said the new building has been designed with a new generation of physicians and other health professionals in mind – and is already attracting top talent.  USF’s incoming class of medical students in fall 2018 was its most competitive ever, with the highest median MCAT score in the state of Florida, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“Medical knowledge is doubling every 73 days, so how do you prepare students for a world like that?” Dr. Lockwood said.  “You don’t memorize textbooks anymore; you have to be able to curate knowledge, understand it and apply it appropriately at the point of care.

“This building will be an extraordinary gem for the community and medicine in general. We will push the boundaries of medical knowledge and keep pace with its rapid expansion.”

Among those attending the celebration were university benefactors Frank and Carol Morsani, for whom the USF medical college is named. Frank Morsani told those in the audience that they had the unique opportunity of a lifetime to part of the city of Tampa’s transformation over the last two decades.

USF benefactor Frank Morsani was among the speakers. USF’s medical college is named after Frank and his wife Carol.

“Not only is today a celebration of this university and medical school, but ladies and gentlemen, it’s a celebration for this community and city,” Morsani said. “Carol and I hope that this school of medicine will continue the transformation and philanthropy necessary for the growth of our community.”

Then with his voice choking back emotion, he added: “As we stroll hand and hand into the sunset of our lives, we are proud, honored and humbled to have this school of medicine as our legacy.”

First-year medical student Tampa Hutchens represented his fellow students at the podium, sharing their enthusiasm for the new downtown MCOM and Heart Institute.  They will be among the first occupants of the building when it opens.

First-year USF medical student Tampa Hutchens represented his classmates at the podium.

“My classmates and I are extremely happy about this new building, the resources it will have to offer, and the chance to pioneer our medical education with new facilities that enhance our research and learning experiences  — not to mention the view,” said Hutchens, who received his bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences from USF and was “so excited” to be accepted to medical school here.

“The Morsani College of Medicine stands ready to transform its students into the kind of medical professionals we want to see in our clinics, in our hospitals and in our time of need – the compassionate, talented, patient-centered people who will improve the health of Tampa Bay and its surrounding communities.”

The event included the unveiling of a rendering of USF Health Heart Institute Weatherford Family Atrium in honor of Will Weatherford, former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, and his family.

Will Weatherford with wife Courtney (right) near the rendering of the USF Health Heart Institute Weatherford Family Atrium unveiled at the topping-off celebration.

Weatherford played a key role in helping champion the relocation of the MCOM and Heart Institute downtown and secure initial funding for the building, and he remains an advocate for the project.  “Our family feels blessed and honored to play a small role in the incredible transformation of our community and of this university, and in this real estate project that will forever change the way downtown Tampa looks,” he said.

Representatives from SPP and Skanska, the firm building the MCOM and Heart Institute in Water Street Tampa, also spoke at the topping-off celebration. (The project’s architect is HOK.)

James Nozar, chief executive officer for Strategic Property Partners, spoke on behalf of Jeff Vinik. The new MCOM and Heart Institute building is a key anchor of Water Street Tampa, the $3-billion real estate development by SPP, the joint venture of Vinik and Cascade Investments, LLC.

Water Street Tampa will be the world’s first WELL-certified district, and the Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute are a vital part of that health and wellness initiative, said James Nozar, chief executive officer of SPP, who spoke on behalf of Jeff Vinik.

“The partnership with USF has been very important to SPP,” Nozar said. “It’s bringing all these great minds downtown to be part of the ecosystem we’re working to create here in Water Street Tampa. Having 2,000 or so students, faculty and researchers downtown is an incredible opportunity…  A lot of of the office tenants and retail people we’re speaking with are interested in being near that. We’re designing residential facilities with that in mind.”

Tracy Hunt (right), vice president of operations for Skanska U.S.A, with USF Foundation CEO Joel Momberg, who served as master of ceremonies for the event.

“Our team’s mission is to deliver a state-of-the-art building that will benefit the Tampa Bay community for years to come,” said Tracy Hunt, vice president of operations for Skanska U.S.A. “As strong as the steel (reinforcing the building) is, the building’s real strength is all of you.”

What they said:

Bryan Bognar, MD, vice dean of Educational Affairs for the Morsani College of Medicine, watches as the beam is lifted to the top of the new building.

“This is a once-in-a-generation transformational moment. In my 30 years with USF, this moment is a bit surreal. We’ve been saying that this place is a diamond in the rough. Well, now it’s in full view – cut, polished and brilliant.”
-Bryan Bognar, MD, MPH, FACP
Vice Dean for Educational Affairs USF Health Morsani College of Medicine

“I always hoped this day would come. It took a lot of people doing a lot of work, and who believed in the vision. This is truly a partnership that will reap benefits to USF and the City of Tampa for decades to come.”
– Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa Mayor

City of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn with USF medical student Liz Lafranchise and USF mascot Rocky D. Bull.

“This is definitely a game changer, certainly for top students and faculty for years to come.”
-Mark Moseley, MD
Chief Clinical Officer, USF Health and Chief Medical Officer, USF Health
Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs, Morsani College of Medicine

“To have seen this building come from an idea to where it is today is so gratifying. And the presence of this building here today is stunning.”
– Hal Mullis, USF Trustee

“It’s thrilling to see USF expand its footprint in such a meaningful way. It’s great to be a part of all of this. In all of the planning, it was critical to be inclusive. We planned this college of medicine for its occupants, but it’s really for all of USF Health. We are making sure we get in the building on time and that everyone has a voice.”
-Carole Post
Associate Vice President, USF Health
Chief Administrative Officer, USF Health
Chief Executive Officer, HPCC/CAMLS

Kevin Sneed, PharmD (right), dean of the USF College of Pharmacy, on a recent tour of the USF Health building under construction in downtown Tampa.

“This is not just about the medical school or the Heart Institute. It’s about every community that wants to build a workforce.”
-Kevin Sneed, PharmD
Senior Associate Vice President, USF Health
Dean, College of Pharmacy

“Now that we can see the building, we are even more excited to fill its space with our Heart Institute teams. The people we’re recruiting are very impressed with the whole project and eager to get to USF.”
Sam Wickline, MD
Professor of Cardiology, Director of the USF Health Heart Institute

The new Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute facility is scheduled to open in late 2019.

USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute by the numbers:

50 percent – Rise in USF medical school applications since the facility was announced

1,800 – Anticipated students, faculty, researchers and staff who will occupy the building

$2.35 to $2.60 — Amount that every $1 in National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding adds to the local economy (Not including the potential for increased economic activity from biotech, pharmaceutical companies and USF start-ups)

31 – NIH funded cardiovascular faculty researchers to work at Heart Institute, more than half already recruited

$28 million – Projected increase in NIH research funding generated by the Heart Institute alone within five years.

$66 – $73 million – Expected yearly economic activity driven by the Heart Institute

47,000 tons – Amount of concrete used to build the facility, comparable to the weight of 155 Boeing 747 jets.

2.5 million linear feet – Amount of rebar used to reinforce the structure, equivalent to nearly 500 miles, or the approximate distance from Tampa to Atlanta.

A commemorative gift from the topping-off celebration included a piece of reinforcement steel like that used to reinforce the building’s auditorium, and reads: The Building’s Real Strength is You.

Learn more about the project and its progress at www.usf.edu/waterstreet, including a live feed of construction available here.

-Sarah Worth contributed to this story
-USF Health video by Torie M. Doll, and photos by Eric Younghans and Freddie Coleman, USF Health Communications and Marketing
-USF video, drone images, and additional photos by Ryan Noone and Sandra C. Roa, University Communications and Marketing