Construction of the long-awaited medical school near Uptown Charlotte is officially underway. The Queen City is the nation’s largest city without a 4-year medical school. The first shovels of dirt were turned today at a ceremony near the intersection of Baxter and South McDowell streets, commemorating groundbreaking on Wake Forest University School of Medicine Charlotte and the surrounding innovation district, known as “The Pearl.”
The school of medicine will anchor the Howard R. Levine Center for Education in the heart of The Pearl. It will be joined by Carolinas College of Health Sciences, which has announced plans to locate there, along with connections to Wake Forest’s School of Professional Studies and School of Business and other educational opportunities. Wake Forest University School of Medicine Charlotte – the second campus of the school of medicine, based in Winston-Salem – is expected to seat its first class in 2024 and open the following year.
The Pearl will be Wexford Science & Technology, LLC’s, latest “Knowledge Community” and will help reshape and diversify the economy of the Charlotte region, integrating research, clinical expertise, entrepreneurial activity, corporate engagement and community inclusion. In addition to the Levine Center and a 331,000-square-foot research building, The Pearl will also feature STEM education, retail, apartments, a hotel and open community spaces.
“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 A. Woods, CEO of Charlotte-based Advocate Health, the fifth-largest nonprofit health system in the U.S., of which Atrium Health is a part. “We are creating a ‘city within a city,’ where excellence lives and excellence is learned. And as we begin this new chapter on these storied grounds, we are deeply committed to partnering with the communities around it and honoring its rich history.”
“I am honored to be a partner in Atrium Health’s endeavor to bring innovation to the Center City and establish Wake Forest University School of Medicine Charlotte,” said local businessman and philanthropist Howard Levine, founder of the Howard R. Levine Foundation. ”Our family looks forward to the opportunities that will unfold for all who wish to pursue higher education and positively impact the health of our community.”
The foundation provided a $25 million gift to name The Pearl’s signature academic building. It was the first major gift of the Atrium Health Foundation’s Giving Hope Campaign, launched in 2021, to support the school of medicine and other key Atrium Health programs and initiatives.
“We are proud that Wake Forest University School of Medicine is among the top 50 research institutions in the U.S.,” said Dr. Julie Ann Freischlag, executive vice president and chief academic officer for Advocate Health, who previously served as dean of the school of medicine. “Adding this second campus will allow us to expand our health technology, research and education capabilities at both campuses, and allow us to enhance the educational experience for our students who will shape the future of medicine as the next generation of health care leaders.”
Wake Forest University School of Medicine is the academic core of Advocate Health.
“Today is an incredibly exciting day for Wake Forest,” said Wake Forest University President Susan R. Wente. “The addition of a second Wake Forest University School of Medicine campus will increase our capacity to educate the next generation of physicians and health care professionals to address pressing health care needs in our communities. With novel, cutting-edge programs from our School of Professional Studies, as well as the School of Business MBA programs based in Charlotte, we will be positioned to create further connections and enhance access to Wake Forest’s exceptional professional education for students in the region.”
“Wexford is excited to build upon the catalytic steps taken by Atrium Health, Wake Forest University and its school of medicine, the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and so many community members and supporters to create a world-class ‘Knowledge Community’ for Charlotte,” said Thomas Osha, Wexford’s executive vice president. “We believe combining Wake Forest’s academics and research excellence and Atrium Health’s human-centered clinical approach, with the development and programming expertise of Wexford, delivers key ingredients for the creation of an environment of innovation and collaboration that can amplify start-up activity, expand university-corporate relationships, attract new talent and ideas, create community engagement and workforce opportunities, while honoring the history of the site and creating public spaces and amenities for all.”
The Pearl innovation district will be constructed in an area of Charlotte formerly known as Brooklyn which, for years, was “a city within a city” where thriving African American businesses, faith communities and families lived, worked and played. Brooklyn was also nestled near Good Samaritan Hospital in Charlotte’s Third Ward – an African American hospital with roots to Atrium Health that was comprised of hundreds of doctors, nurses and health care workers who took great pride in caring for their community. In the 1950s and 60s, urban renewal overtook this area, displacing families, business and churches. One landmark that remains is Pearl Street Park, the first African American park in Charlotte, that continues to be a well-loved gathering place to this day and after which The Pearl is named.
The creation of The Pearl reflects a strong public-private partnership between Wexford, Atrium Health, the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Both the city and county have extended significant public investments into the project, which will be magnified by an additional $1.5 billion in private investments. The shared goal is to create an innovation ecosystem that is grounded in research and academics. It will include corporate innovators, incubate new ideas and businesses, attract venture funding and scale growth businesses – particularly minority-owned ventures – into a geography where innovation, community and economic impact can be optimized.
Last year, it was announced The Pearl would become home to the exclusive North American headquarters of IRCAD, a France-based, global, surgical training center. Over the next 15 years, The Pearl and its tenants are projected to create more than 5,500 onsite jobs and more than 11,500 jobs, in total, in the Charlotte community.
Winston-Salem’s Innovation Quarter (IQ) is also one of 17 Wexford “Knowledge Communities” across the country. The IQ also has deep ties with Atrium Health and Wake Forest University School of Medicine. With both school of medicine campuses located in the innovation districts, the goal is to develop the region into one of the leading areas for innovation in the nation, working in tandem to advance life-sciences research and development, as well as incubate new businesses in both locations.