Donna Shalala is in her 10th year as president of the University of Miami, following eight years as United States Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton. In recent months, she has had to deal with a high-profile improper benefits scandal involving the school’s football team, which is still without resolution (and indeed had an indirect connection to real estate). Shalala was on hand last week to open the UM Life Science and Technology Park, developer Wexford’s biotech hub in downtown Miami in which UM is the single-largest tenant. The Real Deal talked to Shalala about the opening of the park, the role the university plays in developing Miami and the performance of new football coach Al Golden.
What kind of impact do you think the UM Life Science Park will have on the university?
Well, I think it’s a natural extension of building a great research university. It’s an opportunity for us to interact with the private sector, with companies that are coming in, but also it’s an opportunity for our own companies. Because we’re very anxious to take our research directly to the bedside, with our own private companies, out of the research that our scientists are doing.
What kind of impact do you think it will have on Miami?
Well, it’s a job creator — there’s no question about it. Getting companies to open — whether they’re incubator companies or a little further along, it’s an opportunity to create jobs within Miami, but — more than anything else — good jobs. Miami has a lot of jobs, but it doesn’t have a lot of good jobs.
How do you see the health district developing?
You know, we’ve already been [developing it] because we own a lot of land — Jackson [Health System] owns a lot of land. What [the park] clearly does is strengthen the health district. As such, it adds another dimension to the health district, and creates jobs for the community as well as for the county.
Mayor Regalado told The Real Deal last week that for a long time, NW 7th Avenue was not somewhere investors were willing to look. Last week, you mentioned the development of the park involved a land swap with Camillus House and a new location for the charity. What does that do for Overtown?
Well, [the Camillus House project] is not an Overtown project. It’s a project that’s getting some people off of the streets in [all of] downtown Miami and providing people with decent housing, who don’t now have decent housing. It’s also an opportunity for our medical students and for our faculty to work more with Camillus House. We’ve worked with them for years, but now it’s a walkable facility. And that’s closer to the center of our campus, and the science park.
What role can the university play in developing Miami?
Well, we play a number of roles. Our architects played a major role in the planning for the city and the zoning, and our medical students and our medical facilities have provided world-class care, which is attracting people from all over the world. We’re obviously the growth engine of the city — healthcare is one of the few healthy parts in the private sector of our community, and it creates a lot of jobs in the community. The university is one of the few private entities [in Miami] that’s still growing in terms of employment.
What other plans does UM have for development in Miami?
We’re going to build a lot of facilities on the Coral Gables campus, including a health facility on the Coral Gables campus. We have plans for music out on Key Biscayne, and we’re going to build a major facility for seawater study out there. So there are a lot of initiatives here.
What kind of job do you think Coach Al Golden has done so far?
He’s done a great job, and we’re delighted to have him in Miami. But I look forward to Coach Larranaga and our new basketball program.