Medical City began with University of Central Florida President John Hitt’s belief that his university, by developing a biotech research capability, could help transform the region’s economy. Ironically, a medical school wasn’t part of Hitt’s vision until he learned that “you don’t find a bioscience cluster around anything but a medical school.” The school’s decision to locate not just the medical school, but UCF’s entire allied health sciences effort — the nursing school and research operation — off-campus at Lake Nona “made possible the whole concept of the Medical City,” says Hitt, who also welcomed a University of Florida research facility that Burnham wanted as part of the mix. “You’ve got to have a lot of talented people working close to
one another. It pays big dividends longer term.”
Tavistock Group went about creating value at its 7,000-acre Lake Nona development doggedly and with an eye toward long-term gain rather than short-term profit. It donated the land for both the UCF medical college and Burnham. It seeded the local fund-raising effort to build the medical school with 50 acres and $12.5 million — challenging the community to raise the other half. It donated $17 million and 50 acres to Burnham. Joe Lewis, Tavistock’s owner, also bought advertising for Burnham on the Golf Channel during the Tavistock Cup golf tournament he hosts. Lewis has continued to make his mansion in the Isleworth development available to host receptions for donors, VIP guests and prospective Burnham scientists and administrators. Throughout, his company paid studious attention to other details: Burnham executives touring a local elementary school were greeted by students wearing “Future Burnham Scientist” T-shirts — supplied by Tavistock. Meanwhile, as Nemours fought with two regional hospital giants over its plans to build a freestanding hospital, Tavistock approached Nemours about building its facility at Medical City — putting Nemours farther away from its competitors than its proposed site and helping to facilitate the agreement that freed Nemours to build its hospital.
Key Tavistock Executives
» Thaddeus Seymour Jr. is vice president and general manager of Health and Life Sciences for Lake Nona. A former senior executive at Curascript, a biotech pharmacy and distributor, Seymour functions as the “chief of innovation” for Medical City, overseeing the development of new business ventures and corporate recruitment and working to ensure that Medical City’s various scientific institutions realize the potential for collaboration inherent
in the cluster.
» Rasesh “Sesh” Thakkar, a senior managing director of Tavistock, is a UCF grad who has been Tavistock’s chief operative in the evolution of Medical City.
» James Zboril, president and CEO of Lake Nona Property Holdings, manages the 7,000-acre Lake Nona development, including real estate sales and the development of the mixed-use community around the scientific core of Medical City.
From left: Thaddeus Seymour Jr., Rasesh Thakkar and James Zboril [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
Virtually every sector of Orlando’s economy was involved in fund raising for the medical college or Burnham or both, including donations that have funded scholarships for the entire first class at the med school. “In the 17 years I’ve been president,” Hitt says, “this is the project that attracted the most interest from the community.” The enthusiasm and intensity behind the fund raising for UCF’s football stadium, which opened in 2007, he says, was “nowhere near what it was for the medical college.”
Big donations came predictably from wealthy businesspeople like Harvey Massey (Massey Pest Control) and Jim Seneff (CNL), but also in smaller denominations. The two major regional hospital groups, Florida Hospital and Orlando Health, collaborated in supporting the med school and Burnham efforts. Disney gave Burnham free display space at Epcot’s Innovation Way. The Orlando Magic’s jet brought Burnham executives to visit the city; Magic players were among those who met the Burnham entourage. Florida’s Blood Centers leased Burnham space at its headquarters and helped supply adult stem cells from donated blood for research. Veterans groups, meanwhile, lobbied intensively to get the VA Medical Center, which had been approved in 2004 but had no site or funding, off the dime.