Rising on the River

OHSU Extra, Fall 2011

Read more about the Philanthropy Effect on South Waterfront
Collaborative Life Sciences BuildingThis fall, the ongoing transformation of Portland's South Waterfront district shifts into high gear as construction crews break ground on the OHSU Schnitzer Campus. As the transprofessional campus takes shape in the years ahead, the 20 acres of Willamette riverfront just south of the Marquam bridge will regain its former status as a hub of industry and commerce. Gone are the mills, scrap yards and chemical plants that served Portland's shipping, timber and manufacturing needs a century ago. In their place, OHSU and its partners will build a symbol of Oregon's new way of doing business, where the raw materials are knowledge, creativity and – at the heart of it all – a spirit of collaboration.

The first structure to rise on the Schnitzer Campus will be more than just a building – it will be a 500,000-square-foot complex designed to house both the OHSU/Oregon University System Collaborative Life Sciences Building (CLSB) and the OHSU School of Dentistry’s long-awaited new facility, the Skourtes Tower. When construction on the complex is completed in spring of 2014, the CLSB will include an expanded OHSU School of Medicine and educational facilities for future physicians, dentists, nurses, pharmacists and physician assistants. The innovative complex will also feature laboratory and interaction space for health-focused research by faculty from OHSU, Oregon State University, Portland State University and other OUS partners. 

Academic collaborations formed in the CLSB will fuel new partnerships and opportunities. Students educated there will learn together with peers from other health-related disciplines, fostering teamwork that will translate into better care for tomorrow’s patients. Science conducted there will add a new dimension to our understanding of diseases and potential new treatments. Discoveries made there will benefit people around the world while contributing to our region’s economy. Indeed, what happens in this complex will significantly impact the future health of our region – an extraordinary benefit that would not have been possible without the powerful leverage of philanthropy every step of the way.

Charitable chain reaction

The dramatic series of private investments that have shaped the Schnitzer Campus began in 2004, when Schnitzer Investment Corporation donated 20 acres of waterfront property to OHSU. Valued at $34 million – then the largest donation in OHSU’s history – the land provided the university with the proverbial blank canvas on which to envision its future. “Rarely does a gift create an opportunity to physically transform an institution,” said OHSU President Joe Robertson, Jr., M.D., M.B.A. “The Schnitzer family’s gift was just such an opportunity.” The gift gave OHSU the ability to expand its longterm facilities plan and to envision a new kind of graduate school in health and science on the banks of the Willamette – located steps from OHSU’s new clinical outpost on the South Waterfront, the OHSU Center for Health and Healing, and just a tram ride away from Marquam Hill.

 As this exciting plan was taking shape, an anonymous donor pledged $40 million to expand OHSU’s capacity to address Oregon’s coming shortage of medical professionals. This eight-figure philanthropic investment significantly accelerated the timeline for the Schnitzer Campus. 

“That second big gift helped crystallize our thinking around what could be possible at South Waterfront and by when,” said Robertson. “The first investment set the stage for the next, and together they created leverage that continues to drive new ideas and opportunities.”


The power of leverage

Center for Health & Healing at South WaterfrontThe CLSB is itself an enormous new opportunity to join with academic partners throughout the region to leverage public and private funding, and to expand both educational offerings and research collaborations. The two gifts provided OHSU with its primary stake in the CLSB’s multi-million dollar construction budget, with public bonds and OUS contributions covering the balance. The Oregon Legislature and media outlets across the state praised the evolving collaborative project for its future impact. 

“This innovative project, brimming with economic potential…should be a no-brainer,” stated an editorial in The Oregonian. “It could be the cornerstone of a powerful new economic engine and educational dynamo for all of Oregon.” 

The momentum didn’t stop there. Soon the complex became the focal point of planning for a new OHSU School of Dentistry. In 2010 a Blue Ribbon Panel of OHSU and community stakeholders identified the Schnitzer Campus as the ideal location to construct new educational and clinical facilities to replace the dental school’s outdated facility on Marquam Hill. The panel concluded that by building a new dental school within the emerging CLSB complex, and within the same time frame, they could leverage the design and construction investments already pushing the project forward.

But to move forward on building a new School of Dentistry, OHSU would require philanthropic commitments specifically for that purpose to augment its own institutional investment. Within three months, donors pledged more than $27 million* in initial philanthropic contributions, capped by leadership gifts from Eugene and Bonnie Skourtes, ODS Health, and A-dec, Inc. For these early investors, the momentum building at South Waterfront meant that their moment to invest had come. The school is now more than halfway to meeting its total philanthropic goal of $43 million (see story).

Advancing research 

CLSB architectural detailsConstruction of the CLSB will also allow OHSU to significantly reduce the cost of building a one-of-akind 20,000-square-foot laboratory suite, the OHSU Center for Spatial Systems Biomedicine (OCSSB). The OCSSB is uniquely equipped to measure the structure and function of diseased cells in the body over physical space and over time, a new frontier in medical science. Philanthropy and corporate partnership are expected to play a central role in the OCSSB, with unprecedented academic partnerships currently in the works. 

“There are definitely big things ahead, and it’s exciting to see the that donor investments continue to be the critical leverage points driving forward both OHSU and the Schnitzer Campus,” said Allan Price, president of the OHSU Foundation. “This is philanthropy at its best.” 

For Schnitzer Investment’s President Kenneth Novack, watching such exceptional opportunities develop from his family’s initial riverfront land donation has been a great pleasure. 

“Our contribution was an expression of a deep-rooted belief in visionary projects that benefit Oregonians,” said Novack. “We are delighted that it continues to inspire a synergy of giving and development that will support the health and vitality of Oregon for generations to come.”