MCALLEN, RGV – Although a lot of new buildings are going up on UT-Rio Grande Valley’s various campuses, the best is yet to come, argues its president, Guy Bailey.

Bailey spoke about the future of UTRGV and particularly how it might impact McAllen when he appeared before the McAllen City Commission on Monday evening.

Guy Bailey

“The most exciting things about UTRGV are still to come. It is probably hard for people to grasp this completely but at the Board of Regents meeting, what you might not have gotten out of that meeting is that two new doctoral programs were approved,” Bailey told city commissioners.

“One of those was a doctoral program in biomedical science, which is very important to the medical school. The other was a doctorate in physical therapy. If you think about that, we will be adding a School of Physical Therapy. That is pretty significant. That is a parallel to the medical school.”

Bailey said that as UTRGV moves forward with physical therapy and other professional schools, it will also be looking at things like optometry. He said there is only one school of optometry in a public university in Texas.

“There are literally thousands of jobs available (in optometry),” Bailey said. “We will be looking for places to locate the schools and the clinics. Those opportunities are really significant. A lot of great things are happening.”

Bailey stressed that the best is yet to come. “Good things have happened in the past but the future is far more promising than even the present. I think as all of this unfolds you will be amazed,” Bailey told city commissioners. He said a doctorate in clinical psychology is coming and must be approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. “We don’t anticipate any problem,” Bailey said. “All of these things are important for expanding healthcare in the Valley and they represent significant economic development opportunities.”

Memorandum of Understanding

The backdrop to Bailey’s appearance and remarks at McAllen City Hall is that the City of McAllen has not been fulfilling a Memorandum of Understanding with UTRGV to help pay for its new School of Medicine. After his remarks, Bailey told reporters that other entities that signed the MOU, such as Hidalgo County, the City of Edinburg, and the City of Pharr, have been making their commitments. The City of Mission pulled out of its commitment under the MOU in protest at plans to develop a healthcare district.

Jim Darling

Under the MOU, the City of McAllen said it would give $2 million a year to the UTRGV School of Medicine. McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said his city has seen a decline in sales tax revenues.

“I hope you can understand that when the MOU was signed, we did not know certain things would happen beyond our control,” Darling told Bailey. “Last year we were down over $3 million in sales tax, which makes up the bulk of our general fund and our sales tax corporation. This year we will be down over $2 million. We didn’t anticipate that at all.”

Bailey responded: “We do understand budget reductions, we had that $24 million reduction in state appropriations this year.”

Bailey said McAllen has benefitted from UTRGV and the School of Medicine. He said that of the latest batch of 50 medical school students, 16 are from the Rio Grande Valley with nine from McAllen. Of 139 medical residents currently associated with UTRGV, Bailey said, 97 are at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, whose campus straddles Edinburg and McAllen. Bailey said UTRGV opened a nursing clinic in south McAllen last summer and is working with McAllen’s manufacturing hub.

Bailey said that 27 percent, or 872 out 3,152 faculty and staff at UTRGV live in McAllen. “I am one of those. As you can see, we have a substantial presence here,” he said.

UTRGV Medical Research Center

Bailey said the most significant investment UTRGV is making in McAllen is a new medical research facility that is going up in north McAllen on the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance campus.  He said he expects the building to go up in September 2018.

“This is an 86,150 square-foot, state of the art, research facility. There are 16 research labs, 37 facility and staff offices and another 12 offices for research technicians. This will be a state of the art building,” Bailey said. “There will be very few like this. You would have to go to San Antonio or to Houston to find anything like this. Our investment in this is about $4 million a year.”

Bailey pointed out that UTRGV’s Diabetes and Obesity Center generates about $20 million in federal research funding. The center will be housed in the new research facility. “We expect significant federal funding to come that way, significant intellectual property, to be developed in that building too.”

Bailey said that when he started as founding president of UTRGV he had a choice to make. He said investment could have been made in an administrative building, which would have been significantly smaller than the medical research center and far less impactful. He said he plumped for the medical research center. “You can’t really operate a first-class medical school without that. We will be hiring lots of people with that building.”

Mayor Darling is a big supporter of UTRGV’s medical research center. At a groundbreaking ceremony for the facility last October, Darling said that with the possible exception of singer Tony Bennett playing in McAllen, the research center was the best thing that had happened during his time as mayor.

“In San Antonio about 40 years ago, they started a research program that has brought billions and billions of dollars to the city of San Antonio. You know it started with one building. This is the one building that is going to start it for the Rio Grande Valley,” Darling said at the groundbreaking ceremony.

At the same groundbreaking ceremony, Bailey said: “This building will have a greater economic impact than anything we have built or will build in the next few years. Each dollar of research expenditures has about a 3-to-1 economic impact. We expect this building, when up and running, to generate … about $15 million in direct research expenditures a year. What is the economic impact of that? $45 million a year. Think about that over 20 years. This is a billion-dollar investment in the Rio Grande Valley, in the City of McAllen and in our future as citizens in the Valley.”

At Monday’s city commission meeting, Darling thanked Bailey for all he is doing at UTRGV and the School of Medicine. He said he had stood on the steps of San Antonio’s medical school building and said: “This is what the future looks like.”

UTRGV Administrative Building

Bailey hinted that McAllen could yet land a UTRGV administrative building.

“We have an RFI (request for information) for an administrative building. That building will be about 30,000 square-feet, 150 or so employees. Most of us already live in McAllen. If you have seen the RFI you know there is a section in McAllen, the only place that building can be built. We have eight proposals, some very good proposals,” Bailey said.

Richard Cortez

Bailey said a decision on the UTRGV administrative building should be made soon. “We don’t know if we will have someone build that building and we will lease it or we will do a land purchase gift and build the building ourselves. That is in the works and should happen in the next few weeks.”

McAllen City Commissioner Richard Cortez asked Bailey how Valley cities can best help the School of Medicine get established. Cortez said he had read that UTRGV was getting $20 million from the UT System. Bailey responded that the $20 million was not new money. He said the UT System had previously pledged $100 million over ten years to UTRGV. Bailey said the UT System was simply speeding up some of the money, in part to help UTRGV hire faculty for the medical research center.

“Where we have a shortage is in basic operating costs, monies for salaries. That is where you can be of most help,” Bailey told Cortez. “That money will come back to you in a couple of different ways. Healthcare is one. As we hire physician researchers, they are also practicing physicians who provide healthcare. If you think about that, (the investment is) coming back to you. If you think about the intellectual property generated by researchers.”

Bailey added that UTRGV has money for facilities such as the administrative building and the research center. “Where we need help is in putting people in them. The money we get from the cities is all about people, really, and basic operations,” Bailey said, in response to Cortez’s question.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows physicians and administrators from Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, officials from UT-Rio Grande Valley and elected officials from McAllen and neighboring cities break ground for the new Medical Research Facility project in north McAllen.