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Innovation Quarter expected to benefit from Atrium combination

Innovation Quarter expected to benefit from Atrium combination

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The Atrium Health acquisition of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is expected to boost the research and brand recognition of Innovation Quarter in downtown Winston-Salem.

The 2.1-million-square-foot research park will remain governed by Wake Forest School of Medicine under the auspices of the university.

However, Wake Forest dropped its name from the district in February, saying the quarter was ready to stand on its own among its U.S. and global innovation peers.

Innovation Quarter, with an overall workforce of more than 3,400, has been ranked by Preservation NC as the largest historic redevelopment project of its kind in the state, as well as among the largest involving major innovation districts in the country.

Atrium management and board of commissioners, as well as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority’s board of advisers, toured Innovation Quarter facilities in August 2019 as part of their due diligence for the partnership.

On Friday, Innovation Quarter officials said in a statement that it “uniquely poised to become the anchor for a new and impactful health innovation corridor stretching from Winston-Salem to Charlotte.”

“We expect several new exciting Innovation Quarter announcements in the coming months that will greatly increase our capacity for research, education, innovation and business here in Winston-Salem," IQ officials said.

Atrium and Innovation Quarter officials did not respond when asked what kind of Innovation Quarter research or branded presence there would be in Charlotte, if any.

Dr. Julie Ann Freischlag, Wake Forest Baptist's chief executive and medical school dean, said in April 2019 that “we made it very clear that the research arm of this combination would remain in Winston-Salem. Most everyone here likely will stay here."

“Atrium officials have expressed interest in putting some of their people here as they view the quarter as a fascinating think tank. We believe we will be able to grow our research here with increased employment opportunities,” she said.

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said in April 2019 that Wake Forest officials have been told that Atrium will dedicate “millions of dollars” in federal research funds for Winston-Salem and the innovation quarter.

Stan Kelly, president and chief executive of Piedmont Triad Partnership, called the combination “a game changer … and the catalyst for investments in talent and innovation, which will fuel economic momentum for Innovation Quarter and Winston-Salem."

The systems updated briefly Friday their planned investment in the Translational Research and Population Health Center in Winston-Salem.

They said that investment will ”exponentially expanding access to thousands of clinical trials across the region at Atrium Health’s and Wake Forest Baptist’s hospital and clinic locations to allow new treatments and cures to be realized more quickly.”

Last November, the systems pledged to build a multi-faceted tower on the main Wake Forest Baptist campus in Winston-Salem and an eye institute.

The tower would house an emergency department, operating rooms and intensive care unit and would be built on the main Ardmore campus atop an existing parking deck. It would feature new operating rooms with adult intensive care units, along with radiology, pathology and other related services.

The eye institute would be built in the southern district of the Innovation Quarter. That district is anchored primarily by the Center for Design Innovation. The projection is about 90,000 patients annually at the institute.

Wake Forest Baptist has not disclosed a start date or a cost estimate for either project. The eye institute "will be funded through philanthropic gifts, which will be matched by funds provided by the proposed strategic combination," Wake Forest Baptist said.

University officials stressed in February that financial and infrastructure commitments to Innovation Quarter will not shrink.

“We are excited about the future of Innovation Quarter and Wake Forest’s presence there,” university President Nathan Hatch said in a February statement.

“Nothing about the new branding changes the commitments that Wake Forest has made to downtown Winston-Salem.”

Counting the $65 million Bailey Power Plant renovations, the Link Apartments mixed-use project, $106 million Wake Forest BioTech Place, $75 million Inmar Inc. headquarters, and $60 million Plant 64 apartment complex, there has been more than $300 million in capital investment within the research park in the past 10 years.

"Healthcare is our leading industry with more than 30% of people employed in the field in our county," said Mark Owens, president and chief executive of Greater Winston-Salem Inc.

"I am confident we will see more jobs added as a result of this combination overall. I am sure there will be some changes, but Wake Forest Baptist Health has strong leadership, and we are excited for the future."

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@rcraverWSJ

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