USF medical school key catalyst in downtown Tampa transformation

Water Street Tampa is designed to reshape a portion of downtown Tampa to take advantage of its long underappreciated waterfront.

In coming months and years, the redevelopment project will evolve into a free-flowing, walkable town center with more than 9 million square feet of residences, retail, office, hotels, convention space, and the nation’s first certified wellness district.

That newly created environment promises to become a national model for what life can be in a vibrant re-envisioned urban place for people to live, work, play, and stay. Eventually, more than 23,000 residents, workers, and visitors are expected to interact daily within the 50-acre site.

Key to defining success for Water Street is the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute at the intersection of Channelside Drive and South Meridian Avenue. 

The USF Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute is a 13-story, glass, prism-like structure, under construction in the heart of the $3.5 billion Water Street Tampa development.The 13-story prism-style glass-wrapped structure lies immediately across the street from Sparkman Wharf, a relatively new
gathering spot created in Water Street Tampa for outdoor recreation, live music, and foodie indulgences.

The USF medical college and heart institute will be a major force in attracting jobs in biomedical research and technology. USF officials anticipate new companies, startups, and research dollars coming to USF will pump hundreds of millions into the Tampa Bay Area’s economy.
 
“I really want to see the economic development of Tampa Bay to grow and grow and grow,” says retired USF President Judy Genshaft. “It’s very vital to the industry I’m in – higher education.”

Genshaft recently spoke to about 100 people at the inaugural Local Leaders Luncheon at the Tampa River Center, sponsored by the Tampa Downtown Partnership.
 
Planning for the USF facility began nearly five years ago, says Genshaft, as soon as Jeff Vinik and Strategic Property Partners unveiled the $3.5 billion mixed-use development plan in the Channel District.

“That’s when we saw things popping downtown,” Genshaft says, adding that Vinik donated the land to propel the relocation of USF’s medical college from the main campus on Fowler Avenue in North Tampa to Water Street Tampa.
 
“We’re part of a vibrant downtown. We’re all over this plan,” says Genshaft. “The vitality of downtown is just as important to the vitality of the university. We’re tied together.”

Construction is nearing completion in time for a January 2020 opening, and a welcome to an incoming class of 182 graduate students from prestigious colleges and universities across the nation, including USF. The university’s medical college in total has about 1,800 students, faculty, and researchers.

USF received nearly 6,000 applications, but only 4 percent made the cut in an intensively competitive process, says Charles Lockwood, senior VP of USF Health and dean of Morsani College of Medicine.

Incoming students scored in the 95th percentile on the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, and earned grade point averages of 3.76. They represent diverse backgrounds and avocations, including a Marine and a few musicians.

“It’s pretty amazing,” says Lockwood. “They are coming from top-notch schools. Many have multiple publications by the time they graduate.”

About 20 heart health researchers, with National Institutes of Health grants, will join USF’s faculty by summer 2020. Over time, the research program will have 31 researchers.

Their research will focus on issues such as cardiac and vascular diseases, how the heart fails, and the genetics and metabolism of a failing heart.

Public-private partnerships catapult change

Students, faculty, and staff will be moving into a state-of-the-art building, with flexible learning spaces, group study areas, and an innovative learning lab that promotes interactive training.

A partnership with Microsoft will give USF students, faculty, and researchers access to innovative software and Microsoft expertise.

“It’s just a spectacular physical facility,” says Lockwood. “It is designed for the next 30 years of medical education.” Charles Lockwood, senior vice president of USF Health, and dean of USF's Morsani College of Medicine.

Architectural firm HOK is the building designer; Skanska is the designer-builder.
 
“Every square inch has been designed jointly between HOK and our design team,” says Lockwood. “Form follows function.”

Form and function take on special importance in a field where medical knowledge will double every 73 days by 2020. Some would say it could double every 25 days, Lockwood says.

“It’s not just in medicine, but in medicine, it’s more acute,” he says.

With knowledge expanding at lightning-quick speeds, Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is the future not only as a source of information but an electronic partner in making on-the-spot diagnoses and searching for medical solutions amid overwhelming amounts of data.

“That’s exactly where we’re headed with all this,” Lockwood says.

When Lockwood graduated from medical school in 1981, medical knowledge doubled over 20 years. Lectures were a major part of a student’s curriculum.

Today, lectures are less important. Simulations and interactive experiences are changing traditional methods.

“Our goal is to teach students how to curate information and make sure it’s accurate,” says Lockwood. “You can’t do that in a lecture.”

The new medical school is deepening the partnerships with nearby Tampa General Hospital, USF’s primary teaching hospital, and USF Health Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS), which opened in 2012.

It’s creating a synergy that is “our secret sauce,” says Lockwood.

CAMLS is one of the top five simulation centers in the world, he says.

Tampa General recently inked a 25-year lease for three floors in the USF medical facility. The hospital will open a ground floor urgent care center and imaging center with Tower Radiology and USF Health. In addition, an executive wellness program will be available on the 12th floor. Space on the ninth floor will be held for future uses.

With a $10 million award from the Taneja Family Foundation, the new building also will be home to the USF Health Taneja College of Pharmacy.

Collaboration drives innovation

USF and Tampa General recently announced plans to create a joint Academic Medical Center.

Lockwood says USF’s goals and purpose align with clinical activities at Tampa General, which specializes in heart health treatment and transplants.

At night the lights of the USF Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute shine along Channelside Drive.As an anchor for Water Street Tampa, students, faculty, and researchers will have access to the benefits of a walkable, urban neighborhood, which is designed to attract and retain talent in Tampa, according to a written statement from James Nozar, chief executive officer of SPP.

“SPP is committed to supporting the city’s continued economic expansion by creating a new hub to STEM, healthcare, and creative industries so the students at USF want to stay here and thrive,” his statement says.

As far back as 2014, Lockwood says USF realized many of USF’s students were living closer to downtown than the main campus.

“They kind of voted with their feet,” he says. However, he expects more to populate the area as USF relocates downtown and Water Street Tampa grows.

“It’s fun to watch all the new things, all the innovations going on,” says Genshaft who oversaw an ambitious program during her tenure to boost USF into the national rankings among colleges and universities.

The university in the past year leaped 14 spots to #44 among the top 50 public universities in the nation for 2020, according to the U.S. News & World Report.

USF also received recognition in 2018 from the Florida Board of Governors as a “preeminent” research university, joining the University of Florida and Florida State University with that distinction. The honor also comes with special annual funding through the state budget.

Lockwood noted that USF College of Medicine now ranks #52 in the nation, an improvement from five years ago when the college ranked #80.

Relocating USF’s medical college downtown allows for more opportunities for improvement and expansions at the main campus while building on USF’s reputation for excellence with a strong downtown presence, Genshaft says.

“I see this as instrumental,” she says. “Wherever you do your residency is usually where you end up staying. It’s really important that we provide the pipeline, so we have the best people staying here and wonderful, wonderful docs(physicians).”

Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

Kathy Steele is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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