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VOL. 7 | NO. 22 | Saturday, May 24, 2014

Medical Makeover

Medical Center transforming with $1.4 billion in investments

By Amos Maki

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After suffering from years of benign neglect, a new, more invigorated Memphis Medical Center is finally beginning to take shape.

A drive or walk around the area these days shows the hallmarks of a changing landscape – bulldozers, backhoes, cranes and construction crews working feverishly to forge the new urban environment.

Around $1.4 billion in capital projects are currently planned or underway in the district, one of the city’s largest economic hubs.

“We’ve been seeing the dollar numbers being planned for a while and now you can see the buildings coming out of the ground,” said Beth Flanagan, director of the Memphis Medical Center. “It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of time, takes a lot of planning but it’s really exciting to see the buildings come out of the ground.”

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center is one of the leaders in changing the look and feel of the area, with $175 million in construction or renovation projects underway or in the planning stages, driven mostly by the desire to produce a modern campus attractive to students, faculty and researchers.

“This thing has been here 100 years and in the last three years we’ve probably done more on the campus than what happened in the last 50 years,” said Dr. Ken Brown, executive vice chancellor and chief operations officer for UTHSC. “We are in the midst of $250 million to $300 million in construction over the last three years.”

UTHSC is competing with universities across the country for the best and brightest and facilities play a key role in that, Brown said.

“Unless you’ve got those really high end state-of-the-art facilities, you’ve almost got no chance and it’s the same with faculty,” he said. “If you don’t have the infrastructure at the university, they simply won’t come.”

A $49 million Translational Science Research Building at Union Avenue and Manassas Street is under construction now and should be completed later this year or early next year. The 135,000-square-foot building will house investigators from all the university’s colleges and departments conducting “bench-to-bedside” research on clinical settings.

The four-story Translational Science Research Building will attach to the 90,000-square-foot, $25.2 million Cancer Research Building, which opened in 2007 and was the first new building on the campus in 17 years.

In an effort to bring students and researchers back to the historic quadrangle at the heart of the campus, more than $68 million has been earmarked for improvements, which are in the planning stages now.

Those efforts will include converting the Mooney Memorial Library into administrative offices, reception areas and meeting space, renovating the Nash Research Building and annex for state-of-the-art research space and upgrading the Crowe to house the College of Nursing.

Because many students no longer want to live in dormitory-style housing, two empty housing facilities, the Goodman Family Residence Hall and Randolph Hall are being razed. The Beale Building, a former city bus barn erected in 1925, is being leveled for immediate use as parking space but could later be the site for a public-private residential venture.

“They were very old and part of the blight of this community,” Brown said.

The Feurt Pharmacy Research Building will come down to make room for a $24.1 million Multi-Disciplinary Simulation and Health Education Building, where students from every college on campus will train in simulated settings.

But UTHSC isn’t the only stakeholders active in the area.

Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital is building a five-level parking garage on Manassas between Adams and Washington avenues. The parking garage is part of a larger project that includes the planned demolition of a nearby parking garage to make way for the development of a 50,000-square-foot, three-story faculty office building near Adams and Dunlap Street.

Southwest Tennessee Community College is constructing an $18.2 million Nursing, Natural Sciences and Biotechnology building and the VA Memphis will undergo $44 million in renovations.

The Medical Center, home to institutions like Regional One Health, UTHSC, Le Bonheur and the Memphis VA Medical Center, has been getting increased attention.

In January, an Urban Land Institute program brought urban planners from across the country to Memphis to offer advice on how to improve the area. The planners said the city could improve the connectivity between the Medical Center, Downtown and Midtown, enhance parks and green spaces, foster a better sense of place by possibly using an overarching theme to unify the district and activate the area with programs or events.

Those recommendations were nothing new for Flanagan, who has pushed for many of the same things over the last decade and now hopes the public sector will increase the energy and resources it devotes to the area.

“I hope this means the public entities are recognizing the investment the private sector has been making for years and they will further partner with us and promote good design, codes and policies that help us move forward,” she said.

Ron Kastner of CB Richard Ellis Memphis said changes resulting from the Affordable Care Act are bringing more medical professionals back to hospital and research campuses and the city could see fewer medical users renting traditional office space, which he said is not altogether a bad thing.

“The space they’re leaving now will leave a negative void we have to fill,” Kastner said. “But look at that whole neighborhood, look at what they’re doing to transform that community and that helps the whole city. It’s very, very important so see this happening.”

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