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USC trustees give preliminary OK for $200M health sciences campus at BullStreet

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University of South Carolina trustees today gave preliminary approval for plans to build a $200 million health sciences research campus in the Commons at BullStreet redevelopment.

The campus will serve as the new home to the USC School of Medicine-Columbia, the university said in a press release. The location is across the street from the Palmetto Health Richland campus, which includes the Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital and Palmetto Health Heart Hospital. The new campus will also be across the street from the corporate office of the new Palmetto Health-USC Medical Group.

USC medical school is currently located in an aging building on the Dorn VA Medical Center campus at Garners Ferry Road and I-77. (Photo/Provided)"We are thrilled with this plan for a new health sciences campus in Columbia,” said Les Hall, dean of the School of Medicine-Columbia and CEO of the Palmetto Health-USC Medical Group, a multispecialty physicians group. “This new campus will be a tremendous benefit to our students and will help meet the need for more health care providers in South Carolina, while also growing our state's contributions to biomedical research."

BullStreet master developer Bob Hughes is donating 16 acres of land to the university for the health complex. Hughes offset the donation by acquiring an additional 16 acres of land from the S.C. Department of Mental Health that were not part of the original development, according to a press release.

The acreage is a gift, with no cost to the university, the release said. Hughes added that no City of Columbia funds would be spent on the health science campus.

“This action creates numerous new and expanded opportunities for all of Columbia,” Hughes said in a statement. “It creates a win-win-win for the university, city of Columbia and Palmetto Health, while serving as a major economic catalyst.”

Having medical education and health sciences cluster in the heart of downtown will also have a positive impact on the city, Hughes added. “It will spur life science, medical office, residential, restaurant and other development both sooner and in much bigger scale than if this land had remained a DMH facility or even if the property had been developed conventionally.”

Hughes said his company has been a strategic partner with the Greenville Health System for more than 40 years and has seen the value added to a community by concentrated medical uses and the extra boost provided by a medical school complex.

“Our experience has been that such a project radiates outward to parts of the city where jobs and services, especially in health care, are needed. This project will create opportunities and secure this area’s economic strength for a very long time,” Hughes said.

The BullStreet project, located on the former state hospital campus, is in the midst of a 20-year, billion-dollar buildout plan that includes 414,000 square feet of retail space, along with apartments and a hotel. In July, Cobb Theatres announced plans to build a 10-screen luxury cinema in the complex and in April developers opened the 105,000-square-foot First Base Office Building.

Spirit Communications Park, the $37 million home of the Columbia Fireflies, is the development’s centerpiece. Named the 2016 Ballpark of the Year by Ballpark Digest, Spirit Communications Park saw the Fireflies draw a season-record 261,134 fans to professional baseball.

The USC health sciences development would occur in two phases beginning with the relocation of the medical school from its current off-campus location at the Dorn VA Medical Center at Garners Ferry Road and I-77. That move calls for the construction of a 130,000 square-foot, $80 million building to house the medical school, the release said.

The second phase comprises a science and laboratory building that could house basic sciences for the School of Medicine and research activities for other health science disciplines. That building is projected to be a 165,000 square-foot, $120 million facility.

USC said it intends to seek a significant capital investment from the General Assembly to launch the first phase of the project.

“A modern, efficient facility, located closer to the university’s clinical partners in Columbia, is a more effective long-term teaching and research location and a more cost effective facility to own and operate,” said Ed Walton, USC’s chief operating officer.

A medical complex proposed by the university is expected to be a catalyst for jobs in the Midlands from construction (1,700 jobs) and operation (2,200-2,600 jobs) to the new jobs created through research, commercialization, start-ups and clinical services (950-1,200 jobs), according to an economic impact study by researchers at USC’s Darla Moore School of Business. In addition, it is expected to have an eventual annual economic impact of up to $180 million with up to $9 million generated in tax revenue.

“This development is simply exciting,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said in a statement. “It is consistent with our vision to be the most talented, educated and entrepreneurial city in America. … This is a very big deal and significant investment."

The health care industry is rapidly growing in South Carolina with high demand for college-educated workers in the next 15 years, a release said. To meet the demand, the proposed project will help the university to create a health sciences experience for both undergraduate and graduate students that builds on its programs in medicine, nursing, social work, public health, pharmacy, biochemistry, business, computing and others, as well as partnerships with health care providers.

The interdisciplinary approach should attract students to USC who want to enter the health sciences, health administration, health IT or other careers in the health care industry, the release said.

“This is what it means to be a 21st century university: developing arenas of excellence that meet the interests and employability demands of students and parents while meeting the economic demands of the state,” said USC President Harris Pastides. “We have set our goal on being the best university in the region—and perhaps anywhere— if you wish to pursue a great job, and a great life, as a health professional. We know the state’s health care needs are profound and the job market is hopping.”

According to a recent study by the Moore School of Business, the health care industry already employs one out of every eight Americans and the industry is expected to grow by up to 40% during the next decade. In South Carolina that means an increase from 215,000 current health care and social assistance jobs to nearly 340,000. By 2030, the health care and social assistance sectors are projected to be the largest employer in South Carolina.

In a separate development, it was announced today that USC’s Arnold School of Public Health will open a satellite campus in Greenville this year in partnership with the USC School of Medicine-Greenville and the Greenville Health System.

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