By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
In the latest sign of regional cooperation among area leaders, the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Monday, broke ground for the new Altec/Styslinger Genomic Medicine and Data Sciences Building and the Marnix E. Heersink Institute for Biomedical Innovation Conference Center.
City, county, state and university leaders broke ground on the $78 million-plus genomics facility, at Seventh Avenue South, between 19th and 20th streets, in Birmingham.
UAB President Ray Watts said the new building represents advancements in patient care, as well as UAB’s competitiveness as an institution.
“This state-of-the-art facility that we break ground on today will be iconic in its architecture and profound in its impact locally, statewide and indeed globally, for generations to come. It’s monumental in many aspects,” Watts said.
The new facility will also hire 75 new researchers and 350 support employees and bring an estimated $75 to $100 million in funding to the university, Watts said.
“All of this will dramatically accelerate our research and development enterprise, from basic research to commercialization and drug discovery, to the formation of new startup companies, working together with Southern Research and our partners, we will make Birmingham the bio-tech commercialization center of the southeastern US and a national and global nexus for innovation and entrepreneurship,” Watts said.
Selwyn Vickers, CEO of the UAB Health System and the UAB/St. Vincent’s Alliance, compared the new building to improved sports facilities to describe the positive effect it will have on UAB.
“If you don’t have great facilities, the teams often are lacking, lacking in the ability to keep talent, lacking in the ability to recruit talent,” he said. “This building today is a part of putting together a world-class facility for us to not only bring and keep that talent but create discoveries, bring more dollars and money to this institution.”
Birmingham City Council President Wardine Alexander said the facility was important for increasing UAB’s competitiveness as an institution and pointed to the teamwork required to complete the project.
“This is another example of the collaborative effort to improve quality of life for the citizens and residents not only of the city of Birmingham, the state of Alabama and the world,” Alexander said.
In addition to private funding from the Altec/Styslinger Foundation and the Heersink family, the new facility received $50 million from the state of Alabama and $5 million from Jefferson County.
Governor Kay Ivey said the number of jobs and economic impact was of “no-brainer” for the state’s support.
“For every $1 in state funding that goes to this institution, UAB generates $25 in economic impact that is returned back to the state,” Ivey said. “I think we can all agree that that’s a great deal for our state.”
State Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, said the new facility is in line with other recent Birmingham developments like Protective Stadium, which was only possible through bipartisan collaboration among city, county and state government.
“In recent decades, there has been a call for a real partnership among government, business and the general public and cooperation between D’s and R’s, as we say in the legislative arena. There are now impressive signs of a new optimism, a new working together to get the job done.”
Cornell Wesley, director of Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office of innovation and economic opportunity, added the new Genomic Medicine and Data Sciences Building to other recent successes in the city such as the USFL and World Games 2022.
“Birmingham has more sports, but Birmingham has more medicine as well, so let’s be excited about the $78 million capital investment that will yield 400-plus new jobs, not even including the micro-enterprises that will spin out of that,” Wesley said.
Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens said projects like the new facilities are the product of “building relationships.”
“[About five years ago], we decided we were going to talk to each other…to work together to make sure that Jefferson County and the city of Birmingham and all of its entities within it, were the leaders in the state of Alabama. We demand that, and we will work together to make sure that happens,” Stephens said.