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Construction kicks off on Charlotte’s first medical school

With a flip of dirt from their shovels, officials from local government, Atrium Health and Wake Forest University on Tuesday officially started construction on the city of Charlotte’s first medical school.

As the largest U.S. city without a four-year medical school, such a facility has long been at the top of Charlotte’s wishlist. Located in the Midtown area near Atrium’s main hospital campus, the medical school will be surrounded by a mixed-use development to be called “The Pearl.”

To be called the Wake Forest University School of Medicine Charlotte, the school is expected to seat its first class of medical students in 2024. It’s the Winston-Salem-based school’s second campus, and will support more than 3,500 students, officials said.

The Pearl Innovation District - Home to Wake Forest University School of Medicine Charlotte

“Not only will The Pearl serve as a major engine of economic opportunity, but it will also house game-changing academic programs for learners of all degree levels and set the stage for innovative health science businesses to grow into the core companies of Charlotte’s future,” said Eugene Woods, CEO of Charlotte-based Advocate Health, Atrium Health’s parent company, in a statement. “We are creating a ‘city within a city.’”


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Atrium Health is partnering on The Pearl with Wexford Science & Technology, a development company that focuses on academic and research institutions. The first phase, on 20 acres located at Baxter and South McDowell streets, will include the medical school building and a research tower totaling more than 600,000 square feet. Future phases are expected to include more office space, shops and restaurants, a hotel and housing.

Private investment is expected to total $1.5 billion. Mecklenburg County and the city of Charlotte are contributing $75 million total for infrastructure improvements around the campus. Philanthropist Howard Levine, the founder of Family Dollar, donated $25 million to the development as well.

For Atrium, the medical school and mixed-use development represent the latest expansion. In 2020, Atrium Health and Wake Forest Baptist Health merged, expanding Atrium’s reach. And in December, Atrium Health and Advocate Aurora Health combined, doubling the company’s size and creating the fifth-largest nonprofit health system. In Charlotte, Atrium Health opened a new rehabilitation center this month, joining other expansions such as a new hospital facility in Midtown that opened in 2021 with specialties such as the expanded Atrium Health Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute.

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Ely Portillo has worked as a journalist in Charlotte for over a decade. Before joining WFAE, he worked at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and the Charlotte Observer.