Billboards have gone up around the Twin Cities to build anticipation for a prominent construction project on the eastern rim of the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus. But a football stadium isn't all that's being built in the university's East Gateway District. Minnesota's future health and prosperity are rising there, too.
That's what several hundred leading Minnesotans were told Monday about the four new biomedical research buildings that are in various stages of planning and construction near the new TCF Bank Stadium. The Dean's Board of Visitors at the university's Medical School, spearheaded by the irrepressible former Fairview Hospital leader Carl Platou, asked guests to spread a timely word of hope: The state's economy may be slumping now, but because the University of Minnesota is investing in order to remain among the world's leaders in biomedical research, a better day is coming.
Medical School Dean Deborah Powell led an imaginary tour of the four new buildings, describing the work that she expects to be done in each one.
•At the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, to be completed in 2010, the most powerful human and animal research magnets in the world will unlock the mysteries of diseases such as diabetes, breast and prostate cancer, schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease.
•The Cancer Biomedical Research Building, to open in 2011, will house research that includes a project already pointing to more effective treatment for breast cancer.
•The Lillehei Heart Building, to be completed in 2012, will include the Center for Cardiovascular Repair, headed by Dr. Doris Taylor. Her work to create a beating heart in the laboratory is one of many new ways to repair failing hearts being explored by university scientists.
•The Infectious Disease and Neuroscience building, to open in 2013, will seek ways to prevent the transmission of HIV, among other communicable diseases.
The potential for the work done in these buildings to ease human suffering is enormous and would alone justify the state's $292 million bonding contribution to the buildings' construction.
But the new biomedical campus, which will include renovation of three existing buildings, is also likely to produce a handsome economic return on investment. "It is a very good bet," said Medtronic chair emeritus Win Wallin, that the thousands of patents expected to be treated annually at the university will provide the intellectual foundation for new and expanded Minnesota businesses.
State government has done its part in the project by providing 75 percent of construction funds. The National Institutes of Health is expected to fund much of the research eventually housed there. But the university remains on the hook for its share of construction costs, plus salaries for the hundreds of additional faculty and thousands of staff who will populate the research campus. Fundraising is in full swing, aiming to raise $125 million. If there's a better hedge against future physical and economic distress in this state, we don't know what it is.