Roanoke, Va., to Get Med School Expansion and Research Institute

Sep. 5--Carilion Clinic has begun construction on a $70 million building to house an influx of new doctors and is moving forward on plans for a nearly $59 million structure to contain a medical school and research institute.

Both will stand on sites in Roanoke's Riverside Centre for Research and Technology, Dr. Ed Murphy, Carilion's chief executive officer, told city officials Tuesday in a briefing.

The new office building, scheduled to open in 2009, will be the main hub for Carilion physicians' practices. The curved, 210,000-square-foot building will sit on the corner of Jefferson Street and Reserve Avenue.

Murphy unveiled plans for the medical school and research institute that call for them both to be in a 150,000-square-foot building with about 50 laboratories. That building is planned to open in time to enroll the medical school's first class in 2010. The medical school will have a five-year program.

But first comes the parking. That's planned as a $25 million garage, which is already under construction in the Riverside Centre and scheduled to open in October 2008.

The development described by Murphy encompasses the centerpiece of an ambitious undertaking by Carilion to remake itself into a cutting-edge medical research center for Southwest Virginia. The project also comes at a time of transition for the Roanoke Valley's largest employer, which is moving to expand Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, which neighbors Riverside Centre, by absorbing the services of Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital at Elm Avenue and Jefferson Street.

For its part, Community Hospital is becoming the new location for Jefferson College of Health Sciences, also owned by Carilion.

The college began its relocation to Community Hospital last year by converting one of the hospital floors into dormitory space. Jefferson College, which has about 1,000 students, is gradually moving over the next year or so.

Later this month Community's women's and children's service is supposed to relocate to Roanoke Memorial. After all the transfers, Community Hospital will maintain an urgent care center and some outpatient services.

The progress cited by Murphy at Roanoke's city hall is in contrast to news last month that another piece of the Riverside Centre, a planned Cambria Suites hotel, is struggling to find financing. Carilion isn't directly involved with the hotel. A developer, Telemark Hotel Group LLC, has purchased 6 acres on which to build the hotel, but is now asking the city of Roanoke for $1 million as an economic incentive.

But the mood among city officials Tuesday was generally optimistic toward Carilion's overall plans. "There is really a 'wow' kind of thing going on in what used to be blighted land," City Councilman Alfred Dowe said in response to Murphy's presentation.

Carilion is seeking funding from the state to cover construction costs for the medical school. In recent years, income projections for the health care giant have been modest, the result of expenses rising faster than payments.

At the meeting, City Councilman Brian Wishneff asked whether Carilion had a "Plan B" if funding from the state fell through.

Murphy replied that right now the plan is to secure public funding, but if it doesn't happen, "then we'll do what we have to do."

The updates presented included the latest in what has been an ongoing venture between Carilion Clinic and Roanoke's Redevelopment and Housing Authority to develop a stretch of land near the Roanoke River into a thriving business park that would bring the city additional tax dollars.

The park was established with an investment of more than $20 million in taxpayer money from the city's Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

In exchange, all the land being developed by Carilion will be taxable property, City Manager Darlene Burcham reminded city officials Tuesday. Murphy also confirmed that Carilion Clinic, a not-for-profit organization, will also pay taxes on its buildings located within the park.

"Every building that goes up there represents an investment," Burcham said at the presentation.

So far, only one building has been completed in the park. It now houses Luna Innovations, a medical technology company, in which Carilion is a major investor.

Carilion Clinic and Virginia Tech, which plan to jointly operate the medical school, will educate about 40 students per graduating class.

Carilion had originally planned the medical school for a site with a smaller footprint and less visibility from Jefferson Street. It will now occupy a location abutting this major downtown thoroughfare, but its entrance will still face inside the business park.

Parts of the medical school building's facade will be wrapped with Virginia Tech's signature Hokie Stone. The still unnamed medical school will be Virginia's fifth.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Roanoke Times, Va. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.