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ORLANDO-Developer Joe Lewis, ranked by Forbes magazine in 2004 as one of the richest individuals in the US with an estimated net worth of $1.6 billion, has pledged a $12.5-million gift in cash and $8 million worth of prime developable land to the University of Central Florida for the development of a 50-acre, $58 million medical college. In 1997, Lewis donated $7.5 million to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Orlando.

The UCF Healthcare Campus would be built at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, an affluent south Orange County community Lewis purchased near Orlando International Airport in 1996. The land gift equates to $160,000 per acre or about $3.67 per sf.

The university’s board of governors is scheduled to meet Nov. 17 in Jacksonville to vote on the proposed undertaking. UCF officials confirmed for GlobeSt.com the Lewis gift is the largest of its kind in the school’s 35-year history. Three $1-million gifts were also pledged by Avalon Park developer Beat Kahli, the Winter Park Health Foundation and the Martin Anderson and Gracia Anderson Foundation.

If approved by UCF governors, the first three buildings of the medical campus could break ground by first quarter 2006, UCF president John Hitt says in a prepared statement. The first phase would comprise the 113,000-sf Burnett College of Biomedical Sciences building; a 130,000-sf medical college instructional building; and a 60,000-sf library.

A $10-million donation from Al and Nancy Burnett last year, combined with a state match and construction funds would pay for the Burnett Biomedical Sciences College building, Hitt says. Lewis’ gift, through his Tavistock Group company, along with the private and state matching funds it generates, would pay for the second college building and the medical library.

“This marks the continuation of the strong partnership our Tavistock Group has with UCF,” says Rasesh Sesh Thakkar, the company’s CEO. “We are extremely confident in John Hitt’s leadership of this amazing university and we are very proud that they have selected Lake Nona as the site for this important part of UCF’s next chapter of growth.”

UCF president Hitt says “this generous gift, and challenge to raise additional money from the community, will strengthen UCF and Orlando’s case for establishing a world-class medical college.” Orlando is the largest metropolitan area in the US without a medical school, according to UCF research.

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