Medical Campus cites rapid growth, and the challenges it raises - The Buffalo News

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Medical Campus cites rapid growth, and the challenges it raises

About 17,000 people will work on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus by 2017, once construction is completed on several major projects now under way on the campus.

That’s an increase of 5,000 from the current employment level on the 120-acre campus, where 2 million square feet – or the equivalent of about 10 Walmart Supercenters – of clinical, laboratory and office space will be added over the next three years.

All told, between 2006 and 2016, public- and private-sector institutions will spend $1.4 billion on the campus in a major construction boom on the northern edge of downtown Buffalo.

The employment and construction figures highlighted a presentation by top Medical Campus officials to business and community stakeholders Thursday in the campus’ Innovation Center.

William L. Joyce, chairman of the Medical Campus board of directors, and Matthew K. Enstice, the campus’ president and CEO, covered some familiar ground but elaborated on several areas of concern as campus officials manage that unprecedented growth.

The topics included:

• When the campus was formed in 2001, about 7,000 people worked at the existing institutions, including Buffalo General Medical Center and Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Today, 12,000 people work on the campus. Employment is likely to hit 17,000 in three years and could reach 20,000 if several additional University at Buffalo units join its School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in moving to the campus.

Joyce said this represents a quantum shift for Buffalo’s economy. He pointed out that Bethlehem Steel, at its peak, employed 20,000 at its sprawling Lackawanna campus.

• Two million square feet of construction recently was completed on the Medical Campus, and another 2 million is under way or planned, including the UB Medical School, the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital and the Conventus medical office and research building. That current set of construction projects represents a $750 million investment, from government, philanthropic, nonprofit and commercial sources.

• Campus leaders know that Buffalo’s medical corridor never will reach the scale of the Texas Medical Center in Houston, which has more than 100,000 employees working in an area half again as large as the Darien Lake theme park.

But Joyce said the campus aspires to be a “world-class” medical center and is making progress to that end. Buffalo’s campus has “good bones,” and there’s no reason why it can’t match the well-regarded centers in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and communities of similar size, he said.

• Encouraging startup activity has been a focus of campus officials, led by Patrick J. Whelan, the chief operating officer. Thursday’s presentation was held in the Innovation Center’s new co-working space, known as dig, where would-be entrepreneurs can work, interact with their peers and receive mentoring and other assistance. The campus started with four companies in 2001 and has more than 75 today, concentrated in the Innovation Center.

• As the campus adds more workers, officials have to figure out where they’re going to park and how they’re going to get to the campus.

As he has said previously, Enstice emphasized that the campus and its member institutions won’t be building ever more parking ramps to accommodate them.

“We need to think differently about parking,” he said, because ramps don’t create jobs.

Enstice, confronting the challenge they face, asked the 75 or so attendees how many had taken public transportation or ridden a bike to get to Thursday’s presentation. One woman raised her hand, saying she had biked to the campus that morning.

• Campus officials hope current and future employees take the Metro Rail to work, and they hope that future housing construction in the city is concentrated along the subway line.

• The campus’ member institutions are synchronizing the lists of vendors from which they buy goods and services because they want to use their combined purchasing power to support small businesses and other local companies.

• In response to questions from the audience, Enstice said the Medical Campus doesn’t want the housing boom to lead to gentrification that forces low- and moderate-income residents out of the Fruit Belt and Allentown neighborhoods, and he wants the people living in those communities to benefit from development on and near the campus.

He also said campus officials are studying the practicality of offering an incentive to employees who buy homes in certain city neighborhoods and they are open to working with the city to provide recreational opportunities on the campus to young people in the surrounding neighborhoods.


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