Atrium seeks $75M for ‘Innovation District’ surrounding new medical school

CHARLOTTE — Charlotte is the largest city without a medical school. All of that will change in 2024 when Atrium, Wake Forest and Wake Forest Baptist bring the first medical school to be built.

Atrium wants to go a step further and create an entire Innovation District surrounding the new school.

Renderings of Charlotte’s future Innovation District were shown to Mecklenburg County commissioners Tuesday afternoon.

[Here’s a look at the medical school proposed for Charlotte]

Atrium said its new medical school will be a catalyst for the area and a chance to welcome cutting edge companies in life sciences and health care, along with new housing and thousands of jobs.

“We want to create a place where excellence is practiced and excellence is learned and is done in the most inclusive and equitable way possible,” Atrium Health CEO Gene Woods said.

Atrium said it had an independent study done showing the Innovation District will create up to 11,500 jobs over 15 years. Channel 9 has requested a copy of the study. According to Woods, the jobs won’t all require a degree.

County leaders said they see extreme potential in the project.

“From an economic development perspective, this is probably the most exciting thing to happen in Mecklenburg County since the expansion of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport,” Economic Development Director Peter Zeiler said. “This is truly a catalytic event for the county.”

[Charlotte’s first 4-year medical school will be built in Midtown]

They are also seeing dollar signs. The county said Atrium is seeking $75 million from the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Leaders are talking through the request now to determine what can be contributed. The county’s contribution may be $50 million spread over 20 years as a reimbursement from incremental taxes created by the project.

“As I kept listening to it, I kept thinking there has got to be a county and city ask here so I wasn’t surprised,” Commissioner Pat Cotham said.

If approved, the money will be used for infrastructure. The county stated the new infrastructure includes roads, intersection improvements, parking and utility relocation.

County commissioners appear open to the investment but want to see more details.

“This will really put us on the cutting edge, and I think this is something that would be phenomenal to take place,” Cotham said.

“Investing in our community, investing in our people is the right thing to do,” Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell said.

According to Zeiler, Atrium is also seeking $25 million in federal grants for greenway connections and ribbon walks.

Woods and Chairman George Dunlap said affordable housing will be part of this district. Terms of the affordable housing are not clear.

The county is expected to discuss the Innovation District again in the coming weeks.

Atrium Health sent Channel 9 the following statement:

“The construction of a second campus of Wake Forest School of Medicine is among the biggest things to happen in Charlotte in years. It has continued to build excitement within the community and promises to reshape the landscape of medical education through innovation, technology and diversity, among others. A key component of the impact of the Wake Forest School of Medicine – Charlotte campus will be the innovation district that will build up around it. This will shift the local industry landscape as we incubate, develop and scale life science businesses into the companies of Charlotte’s future.

We are grateful for the opportunity to present to the commissioners and to the council about how we can shape the future of Charlotte. Atrium Health will be making substantial investment of over $1.1 billion into bringing an innovation district that will be adjacent to the second campus of Wake Forest School of Medicine in Charlotte. The innovation district will be an economic boon for years to come as research and development firms relocate or are created here. The proposed tax increment grant would be a major component of our ability to ensure the necessary infrastructure improvements are in place to support the development, such as water, sewer and traffic flow. And, as a result, we will be able to create and facilitate an improved tax base through site development, new jobs and building affordable housing to help support the growth that the school of medicine and innovation district will bring with it.

Over the next 15 years or so, we expect the innovation district to create roughly 11,500 jobs in and around the district. Innovation jobs typically provide a 15% higher entry level wage, and we expect that 30-40% of the jobs created onsite won’t require a bachelor’s degree, so this project is truly a gateway to opportunity for all.

We don’t have additional details to share at this time, beyond what was shared with the commission. We look forward to being able to share more as the project unfolds about who and what is coming and how that will help our community grow and improve health, hope and healing for all.”

(Watch the video below: Charlotte’s first 4-year medical school will be built in Midtown)