The developer of the midtown medical campus that will be home to Charlotte’s first medical school said the firm is committed to bringing “real benefits” to the surrounding community via youth engagement and job creation.
Dennis Miller, vice president of development at Wexford Science and Technology, who oversees North Carolina, said 30% to 40% of the jobs in the medical district will not require college degrees.
These jobs, he said, won’t be just service work; they will consist of research techs and lab techs, which may require certifications, but not a 4-year program.
“The beauty of those jobs is, once you get in a lab and you demonstrate your ability, regardless of a diploma or a degree, you have upward mobility opportunities in those research labs,” Miller said during the Tuesday Morning Breakfast forum, where he spoke.
“The life-science industry is one of the most intimidating industries for some people,” he said. “The key thing for us to communicate is that there really is a place for you if you’re interested.”
Wexford, along with Atrium Health, has reached out to local job-training organizations, such as Goodwill Industries and Urban League of Central Carolinas, to ensure that a funnel will exist to fill the jobs created on the medical campus.
Hillary Crittendon, head of commercial development at Atrium Health, said they also have begun talks with Central Piedmont Community College, Johnson C. Smith University and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to explore how students on a health-science or technical path can be prepared for employment.
“We’re not trying to bring new [workforce development] programs to town,” Crittendon said, “we want to leverage the leadership we already have here.”
Last October, officials announced that Atrium Health and Wake Forest Baptist Health merged to operate as a single enterprise. In March, they announced their first act — bringing a second Wake Forest School of Medicine to Charlotte.
The 20-acre site will be located in midtown, at the current corner of South McDowell and Baxter streets, adjacent to US-277.
Parts of the project will cover land once known as Brooklyn Village, a bustling African American community of homes, churches and businesses that was demolished during urban renewal in the late 1960s.
Miller says his development team is conscious of that history and the lingering bitterness, and he said the company would not run from it, but rather “embrace it.”
One idea, he said, is to create a history trail, along the walkways and bikeways of the medical district, that would tell the story of places like Brooklyn Village and Cherry, another of Charlotte’s historically Black neighborhoods.
Miller said he got that idea from Darrel Williams, owner of Neighboring Concepts, a design firm working to help Wexford understand the community, design the campus and produce a master plan reflective of Charlotte.
When a Breakfast Forum attendee asked Miller about compensation for former residents of Brooklyn Village, Miller said the developer is committed to listening to residents, “so that this project is respectful and authentic to the history of Brooklyn and surrounding neighborhoods.”
What to expect
Current renderings show the medical campus with two main buildings — the school of medicine and an innovation/research building. The campus also will include retail, housing, businesses and green space. The project will be designed in a way that will invite the community in, says Miller.
“For innovation districts to be successful, it has to be porous and not gated off,” he said, adding that the development will include a plaza to host public events.
Miller said a typical tenant in the development might be a researcher studying gene therapy.
“We curate our buildings,” he said. “We make sure that every tenant that comes in, that they’re able to make the innovation district stronger with contributions that they make.”
Wexford, founded 15 years ago, has developed medical innovation districts in cities including Philadelphia, St. Louis and Miami, according to its website. Its resume in North Carolina includes Duke University, Wake Forest.
Miller said Charlotte was an easy choice, given its economy and high concentration of health care jobs. He also cited the importance of Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, which he described as a global access point for researchers and students.
“We find that the urban environments are really essential for recruitment of rockstar researchers, young millennials, and those patterns have already taken place in Charlotte,” he said.
Miller said building out a medical campus can take years, possibly decade. The immediate focus, he said, is to get community feedback.
Major construction, he said, will begin next year. The first building — the school of medicine — is expected to be operational by 2025.