'Investing in our community, investing in our people' | Charlotte's first medical school could cost taxpayers $75 million

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Renderings of the ‘Innovation District’ were shown to Mecklenburg County leaders Tuesday. But the project will be pricey as some leaders are cautiously optimistic.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte’s first medical school will come with a hefty price tag to taxpayers as hospital and county leaders hope to create an ‘Innovation District’ in the Midtown and Dilworth area.

Renderings of what would become Wake Forest School of Medicine near Pearl Street Park were shown to Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners Tuesday night in a presentation by Atrium Health CEO Eugene Woods. 

The project would need public support from taxpayers, according to the county. 

Mecklenburg County Economic Development Director Peter Zeiler said the latest estimate would cost taxpayers $75 million. That could be split between Mecklenburg County and the City of Charlotte. 

Zeiler said worst-case scenario, the county could pay $50 million over 20 years that they’d be reimbursed for by the taxes brought in from the project. 

“This is the most exciting thing to happen in Mecklenburg County since the expansion of the Charlotte Airport,” Zeiler said. 

The renderings showed multiple buildings just outside of Uptown. Woods said the heart of the development would be the medical school, with other space built out for national health-tech and medical innovation companies to work out of. 

“You’re bringing thousands of jobs to the region, and many, many middle-skilled jobs,” said Commissioner Leigh Altman, excited about what the district would bring to the community. 

“I’m anxious to see this happen,” added Commissioner Vilma Leake. 

Commissioner Pat Cotham noted she’d always wondered when a medical school would be built in the Queen City — the largest U.S. city without a four-year medical school. 

“This is definitely an exciting project,” Cotham told Woods and the rest of the board. 

Woods noted that it would be more than just an education hub. It would also give people in the community opportunities in different fields of work and education that they don’t currently have. 

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However, some commissioners pushed for more information on just how the community would benefit in that regard. 

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Commissioner Mark Jerrell, who wanted more details on how local residents would have opportunities at the school and jobs created. 

“I have guarded optimism,” Commissioner Susan Rodriguez McDowell added. 

“I think that investing in our community, investing in our people is the right thing to do,” she added. “I do feel a little bit concerned about investing in a part of town that probably needed our investment the least.”

The district would be built near Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center in between Dilworth and Midtown, a historically wealthy area already congested. 

“Why is this innovation located in the best place for Atrium and not the best place for the community,” she asked, rhetorically.

Board Chair George Dunlap reminded commissioners several details will soon be ironed out. 

“This is the beginning of the process, but it’s going to be accelerated because of the timeline,” Dunlap said. 

Atrium Health hopes to have the first students seated at the medical school in 2024. 

Contact Hunter Sáenz at hsaenz@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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