BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - An hour into maybe one of the most keenly-watched public meetings in Evansville's history, Indiana University's board of trustees made it official: They want the university to build its new Evansville medical school in Downtown Evansville.
The meeting was held live at IU's Bloomington campus, and broadcast live both at an Evansville gathering and online. It also generated interest from Twitter and Facebook users.
At the meeting, IU President Michael McRobbie said the university's medical school and students, along with other involved parties, expressed a strong preference for Downtown over three other proposed sites, according to the Evansville Courier & Press.
The Downtown site covers almost six square blocks. The site's boundaries include Locust, Cherry, Southeast Fourth and Southeast Sixth streets.
The chosen site will add to a "quickly developing downtown" Evansville, McRobbie noted, and the Downtown site will be walkable for students and offer easy access to area hospitals where students will do training.
Estimated cost of the Downtown project is $69.5 million. As part of its proposal, the city is offering TIF district incentives of $35 million, said IU Vice President of Capital Planning and Facilities Tom Morrison.
In some ways the afternoon vote was a formality: Trustees heard details of all four proposals in a morning committee meeting, and during that meeting McRobbie recommended that the board select the Downtown Evansville site.
The development team on this project is Skanska/U.S. HealthRealty, and four members of this team traveled to Bloomington for the meeting.
"We're just happy to be a part of this project," said Downtown project team member A.C. Braun, business developer at Industrial Contractors Skanska.
Following the morning committee meeting, Braun and his teammates said they had no inkling which proposal would be favored by IU's trustees. Adding to the suspense, he said, was the fact that Friday morning was the first time his team saw details of the other three proposals.
"We were nervous sitting in our seats," Braun said.
Evansville attorney Pat Shoulders, an IU trustee, said he and other trustees received a briefing last week that the Downtown location was the favored site.
Shoulders said he personally favors the Downtown site, but has publicly stayed neutral. Shoulders is the only trustee on the nine-member board who lives in Southwestern Indiana.
"I've kept my own personal preference to myself," Shoulders said.
Now that the Downtown site has been selected, Shoulders said he's excited about what that means for his hometown.
"No great city in the world has been successful without a viable downtown," Shoulders said.
"In my lifetime, I believe this is the greatest chance that Downtown Evansville has to become the successful, vibrant, integral place that it truly deserves to be."
IU's School of Medicine Dean Jay Hess also endorsed the Downtown site during the morning committee meeting.
"The Downtown site works well for the needs of the IU School of Medicine," Hess told the trustees.
Hess also called the Downtown site "the clear choice of the students."
What's next for the project? Many details are yet to come.
Friday's vote signals that the IU trustees agree only to open negotiations with the Downtown Evansville project team. The two parties have 60 days in which to come to the necessary agreements on the project, including a master development agreement and leases.
That agreement might be reached sooner than the 60-day deadline, Morrison said.
"I anticipate it'll go fairly easily," he said.
The three other proposals in front of the trustees were sites at USI, Warrick County and the Promenade development on Evansville's Far East Side.
If those negotiations should fall, IU might reconsider one of the other sites, IU School of Medicine-Evansville spokeswoman Catherine Zimmerman told the Courier & Press earlier this week.
Full details of the four proposals won't be made public until after a development contract is signed, Zimmerman said.
Also yet to come is state funding. Indiana's General Assembly is set to consider project funding during its next legislative session in 2015. Assuming that funding comes through, construction is set to begin in 2015, with a target completion of summer 2017.location near other amenities.
During Friday's committee meeting, Morrison gave a recap of all four proposals, including costs and incentives.
Morrison said each proposal was strong, and each had particular assets.
Promenade: Estimated project cost is $47.3 million. This site offered the possibility of TIF district funding as an incentive, Morrison said, but specifics had yet to be determined as of Friday.
A noteworthy aspect of the Promenade site, Morrison said, was the larger picture for that property, which is planned as a mixed-use development to include housing and retail.
"It really is an exciting plan when you see all of its components," Morrison said.
USI: The university had proposed two different
sites, each one very close to the main entrance to campus. Estimated project cost is $50-60 million, with no incentives offered.
Strong points of this proposal, Morrison said, included USI's long-standing partnership with IU – IU's Evansville medical school has been on USI's campus for decades.
He also cited USI's "beautiful" and "well-planned" campus that offers plenty of space for future development.
Warrick: Estimated project cost is $59.9 million. This plan also offers TIF district funding and other local incentives totaling $24 million.
Strong points of this proposal, Morrison said, included its proximity to Deaconess Gateway Hospital and I-164, as well as the "sound future development plan" that Warrick officials have for that area. The site lies within the Warrick Wellness Trail, an area that Warrick officials have earmarked for future medical and health-related development.
The campus will include IU's new Evansville med school, but other elements, too. The facility also calls for a high-tech simulation center for teaching and research, along with IU School of Dentistry programs.
Other partners in the project include USI, the University of Evansville and Ivy Tech. All three schools plan to offer health science programs that will be based on the new campus.