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Each week, WFAE's "Morning Edition" hosts get a rundown of the biggest business and development stories from The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

BizWorthy: How A Medical School Could Change Charlotte

Atrium Wake Forest medical school rendering.JPG
Atrium Health
A rendering of Charlotte's new medical school that Atrium Health CEO Gene Woods presented at the hospital system's board meeting on Aug. 11, 2020.

Atrium Health and Wake Forest Baptist Health last week announced they’ve officially completed their merger. A big part of the combined new hospital system is building a medical school in Charlotte, which is expected to lure more medical tech companies to the region.

In a press release announcing the merger, former Bank of America chairman and CEO Hugh McColl called it the “most transformative initiative in the history of Charlotte.” For more, we turn to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

Marshall Terry: Tony, it's not every day that Hugh McColl says something like that.

Tony Mecia: That's right, Marshall. That's pretty high praise coming from a pretty well-known figure locally who's had his hand in a lot of transformative events in Charlotte's history. I mean, I guess in deals like this, I think you always expect a little bit of hyperbole, maybe. But I think this is something that is pretty significant for Charlotte. You know, we don't have a four-year medical school. We're one of the biggest cities in the country without one. And so, I think what this does, it does a number of things: I don't think you're going to see, necessarily, a whole bunch of students, necessarily.

I mean, we'll be leaving the campus, it sounds like, with Wake Forest, but ... I think it's moving Charlotte in this direction of becoming more of a research center, of attracting more scientists, more biotech companies. You know, you get a little bit of the academic research side and that's going to spin off some companies doing those sorts of sort of things that right now Charlotte doesn't have a whole lot of.

Terry: We've talked about this medical school a few times on this segment since it was first announced last year. Now that the merger is complete, are there more details about it, like where it would go or when it would open?

Mecia: Well, at their press conference last week, Atrium in Wake Forest Baptist, they were all smiles. They were very happy. They said, "We've combined. This is going to happen." But they did not really have a whole lot of details. They didn't provide a lot of details like you're asking about there. They didn't say where it's going. They didn't say when it's opening or when construction's starting.

So, you know, there's still a lot of people in town that want to know ... where exactly is this going to go? I mean, I think thinking is probably going to go somewhere near Carolinas Medical Center, their campus there at midtown. But, you know, they haven't officially said that. So they're still, I think, dotting the I's and crossing the T's on that.

Terry: What is the next step for the medical school? Is it a done deal at this point?

Mecia: It sounds like it's pretty much a done deal. They've gotten, as far as the merger between the two companies, they've gotten completely approved. It does sound like there's some paperwork they have to do with accreditation types of things with the organization that accredits medical schools. Wake Forest Baptist has a medical school right now, so they're basically going to create, it sounds like, a satellite campus or a second campus in Charlotte. But again, we don't have the details of how big that is or when that's happening.

Terry: Let's move on to some other areas of development. You report this week there's a hot new area for development in Charlotte: the freight district. What is that?

Mecia: Yeah, it's an area off of Freedom Drive in this area that's now sort of becoming known as FreeMoreWest off of Morehead (Street) and Freedom in west Charlotte. It's kind of between Freedom Drive and uptown. And it's an area that used to be an industrial area — lots of warehouses, industrial buildings.

Developers are now coming in and they're redoing the warehouses, turning them into offices. You've had a number of things springing up around there. There's a seltzery. There's a bar you can take your dog to.Wray Ward, the biggest advertising company in town, just opened its office there. You have Pinkie's Westside Grill. Noble Smoke.

So that whole area is really kind of taking off. There's been a lot of activity on a number of different things, and so ... lot of developers are paying attention to it. Fairly close to uptown, so there's a lot going on over there.

Terry: Now, this name, the freight district, is that's something that marketers or boosters are coming up with, or is that something that people who actually live in that area call it?

Mecia: I'm not exactly sure about that. I certainly haven't heard it called that before. I mean, I guess it makes sense if you have a lot of warehouse to name it something like that. But I think it's becoming a little bit more well-known, certainly among developers. You know, whenever you develop an area, you kind of like to give it a name, give it a brand, give it an identity. So, that seems like one that they're gravitating toward.

Terry: Finally, Tony, the city of Charlotte plans to spend up to $2.9 million to buy an eight-acre parcel on the old Eastland Mall site. What for?

Mecia: Well, Marshall, you'll recall that the old Eastland Mall site is being redeveloped by the city and Crosland Southeast. It's going to be the site of the new MLS team headquarters, training facility. They're going to put some other things in there, too, some other uses.

And so, this is just really part of that, so the city said this week that it's planning to acquire a parcel there on the southern-most portion along Albemarle Road. That project, I think, construction is supposed to start next year. They're making plans and figuring out all the details on that right now.

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