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Omaha commits $93 million to UNMC Project NExT partnership

Published: Mar. 30, 2021 at 9:48 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Mayor Jean Stothert announced Tuesday that the city has signed a $93 million Memorandum of Understanding to support the multi-billion-dollar Project NExT expansion at the University of Nebraska Medical Center over the next decade.

“Building great partnerships is how we get things done in Omaha,” Stothert said.

Dr. Jeffrey Gold joined the mayor for a news conference Tuesday morning to announce a partnership expected to create more than 8,700 permanent jobs and 41,000 construction jobs for UNMC and Nebraska Medicine. Should the Department of Defense give the green light, a multi-billion-dollar federal disaster response center and research facility would be built around the former site of the Munroe-Meyer Institute.

The mayor said the expansion is expected to bring in $1.9 billion annually both during construction and after its completion. The MOU provides as much as $45 million for Project NExT and $48 million for public improvements, streets, and a parking garage on the Saddle Creek campus.

“Our support will not increase taxes,” Stothert said.

Taxes collected on the city’s occupation tax as well as taxes on tobacco and vaping products — which amount to about $4.2-4.5 million annually — over the next 10 years, beginning in 2023, will fund the city’s commitment, the mayor said.

The council passed the tobacco tax ordinance in 2012 to fund the Fred and Pamela Buffet Cancer Center, she said. In 2019, they removed the sunset provision that would have ended the tax in 2022 and added vaping products to the tax.

The public parking garage will be funded through lease-purchase bonds, Stothert said, and other infrastructure improvements — “including streets,” she said — will be funded with transportation bonds included in the 2021-2026 capital improvement plan.

In addition, the state of Nebraska approved $300 million for the NExT project, and Gov. Pete Ricketts “signed a bill committing funding contingent on additional financial support for the project,” the mayor said.

“Our medical center is uniquely qualified to respond to public health crisis and other types of national threats. We have seen that first-hand with the treatment of Ebola patients and now COVID-19 patients,” Stothert said. “Project NExT places Omaha in a competitive position to attract and retain the best and the brightest talent.”

Dr. Gold called the MOU a critically important commitment to Project NExT, short for Nebraska Transformation, “will provide a world-class home for an academic medical center. It will provide for health security for our nation, as well as provide an economic injection that drives development and prosperity in Omaha for decades after decades.”

Dr. Gold said UNMC will continue working to provide funding for the project from private and public sectors “and particularly from the federal government.”

“We are deeply thankful for this commitment, and we will not disappoint,” he said.

Proven results could help with next steps

In the next month, the federal government will choose a handful of locations across the country to be the new home for federal disaster response centers. Gold said he believes Omaha is well-situated to be selected as one of them.

“Project NExT will place Omaha in a competitive position to attract and retain the best and brightest health care professionals,” he said.

Think of it this way: The campus built a biocontainment center, selected a team to prepare for the worst — and how to treat it — and yet the unit only practiced and trained for nine years.

But in 2014, that patience paid off. Ebola struck, and of all the places in the world, Nebraska is where the patients were treated. That’s what led to the state’s investment in Project NExT, and now the city’s commitment of nearly $100 million.

6 News asked the UNMC chancellor if much larger disaster response centers had been in place ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, would the outcomes might have been different.

“If 10 of these centers had existed that could have had a skilled workforce, the supply chain, diagnostic testing, the bed capacity, and the ability to absorb the first 10,000 Americans with COVID, I would suggest we would be in a totally different place at this time,” Gold said.

Councilman Chris Jerram, who represents the city’s 3rd District, said the Buffett Cancer Center and the global center at UNMC have been transformational for the city.

“It’s a very exciting time in our city,” he said. “...It’s about investment, and return on investment.”

The MOU is a non-binding agreement, according to a release from the city.

In the next month, sites will be designated for the new “federal all-hazard response locations” that will serve as preparation centers for future pandemics, natural disasters, and other public health threats, according to a release from the mayor’s office.

Watch Tuesday’s news conference

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