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Private money, new stadium for Jackson State football loom as roadblocks for UMMC mega facility

There are two major hurdles to clear if the area around University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson is to become a medical research and treatment “city.”
Jackson State University has to relinquish control and management of Veterans Memorial Stadium, and hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment from new and existing medical facilities has to be gathered. One will be easier than the other.
Legislation passed in the 2011 session transferred management responsibility of Veterans Memorial Stadium to Jackson State July 1. The university will now bear the expense of operating and maintaining the 70-year-old facility with a capacity of about 62,000. Included in that legislation, though, is a clause that gives the school the option of returning the stadium to the state on July 1, 2014, if the operational costs are more than the school could handle.
Michael Thomas, JSU’s vice president of business and finance, said the school is confident it can maintain the facility cost-effectively, and said he “couldn’t envision” the stadium returning to state ownership after that three-year window.
“Even with that, the ultimate goal is that we have our own stadium close to campus just because we think that would be more beneficial to JSU,” Thomas said last week in an interview with the Mississippi Business Journal.
The timeline for a new stadium and the first phase of the medical city are intertwined. Thomas said putting a preliminary timeline for construction of a place for the Jackson State Tigers to play their football games has not been established. He added that conversations among the school and UMMC have started to determine the future of Veterans Memorial if and when a new facility takes steps toward reality. Those talks include, Thomas said, finding ways to procure private funding.
“The initial conversation was looking toward a public-private partnership,” Thomas said. “We really haven’t thrown around any (cost) figures. We have to decide what the capacity would be, and what additional amenities it would have. The ultimate goal for both parties would be for Jackson State to have a new stadium, and UMC would be able to have their medical corridor. UMC was extremely supportive of that.”
Last year, UMMC put the finishing touches on a master plan that would guide the medical school’s existing facilities and its growth over the next 35 years. Dr. David Powe, UMMC’s chief administrative affairs officer, said the plan left in place Veterans Memorial Stadium. The growth path started at the school’s facilities and extended toward the farmer’s market on West Street, and called for the development of a bio-research park.
Powe said the medical school’s first priority as it pertains to Veterans Memorial is to let Jackson State drive the decision on whether to keep it or to raze it. If Jackson State builds a stadium either on or close to its campus, UMMC would regain ownership of the old facility.
“We don’t have a football team, so we would have no use for the stadium. So we would develop a plan for the development for that property,” Powe said. “There’s a lot involved here, and we don’t want to cloud the issue. We want to make sure everyone understands that we’re in full support of Jackson State.”
Ideally, a medical city would include a mixture of research, academic and clinical sectors, to go with a retail component, Powe said. It would have to include a huge amount of private investment, the recruitment of which has already begun through a joint effort between UMMC and the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership.
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who is one four Republicans on the gubernatorial primary ballot, has recently made the creation of a medical city that extends from State Street to Hawkins Field a part of his campaign. Bryant said in an interview with the Mississippi Business Journal last week that the percentage of private investment, based on early projections, would have to be “between 70 and 75 percent” with the state kicking in the rest. Exact cost figures have not been determined yet, he said.
“Obviously, we don’t have the money in state government (to fully fund such a mammoth project). You don’t want to bond to that extent, but the medical community is the fastest-growing segment of the economy. We need to take advantage of it. We’re very early in the process.”
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