Rendering of the proposed medical school. Courtesy of Centro Partnership San Antonio.
Rendering of the proposed medical school. Rendering courtesy of Centro San Antonio.

University of the Incarnate Word officials have abandoned plans to build an osteopathic medical school on the Fox Tech High School campus downtown after failing to raise $50 million to fund construction and operations. Word of the canceled project spread quickly Tuesday among downtown business and political circles.

UIW President Dr. Lou Agnese Jr.
UIW President Dr. Lou Agnese Jr.

Longtime UIW President Lou Agnese Jr., who was leading the effort to raise funds for the new medical school, is on sabbatical and an extended ocean cruise with his wife, Mickey, and has not been available for comment. He did not respond immediately to an email requesting comment.

Agnese made a series of calls Monday to Mayor Julián Castro, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Sylvester Perez, District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal and Centro San Antonio CEO Pat DiGiovanni, informing each in turn of the school’s decision to abandon the downtown plan. Agnese told local officials that UIW still intended to proceed with the medical school at one of two previously identified sites. One is at Brooks City Base, and the other is on Datapoint Drive, site of  UIW’s existing School of Optometry.

The city and county had both made multi-million dollar pledges to support establishment of the school. Together with the county’s plans to revitalize San Pedro Creek, the project was seen as a lifeline for the underdeveloped western reach of downtown.

Courtesy rendering of the proposed medical school project site.
The Fox Tech site with proposed medical school and parking garage. Image courtesy of Centro San Antonio.

The challenge of raising $50 million caused many to wonder from the start if UIW officials would ever break downtown ground on the medical school. Agnese has a record of strong fund-raising over his 20-plus years as UIW president, but such a sum seemed daunting by any measure when Agnese first announced plans for the school without having a lead gift secured beforehand.

The project’s cancellation was a disappointment for Centro, too, which had invested considerable time in trying to make the project a success, acting as ‘honest broker” when UIW, SAISD and city and county officials first came together to explore the possibilities.

Centro San Antonio CEO Pat DiGiovanni
Centro San Antonio CEO Pat DiGiovanni

DiGiovanni sent an email Tuesday afternoon to Centro board members and others in the downtown leadership confirming the rumors that had swirled in recent days about the project’s demise.

“Clearly, this is a tremendous disappointment for all of us at Centro, board members and staff alike, who worked diligently for months to bring UIW and SAISD together to bring this project downtown to what we believe is the best possible site,” DiGiovanni wrote. “We knew from the beginning that the Fox Tech site was contingent on a successful UIW fundraising effort. Their aggressive timeline was also not working in their favor. In recent weeks, we met with UIW on several occasions to discuss their efforts and offer suggestions. Unfortunately, their game plan did not deliver a good outcome.”

UIW issued a press release confirming the cancellation today. Click here to read the full release. Here is an excerpt:

“The downtown SAISD location would require the university to build from the ground up on limited space while the other two locations have existing facilities and more space,” said UIW Chancellor Denise Doyle. “In whichever of the two locations our medical school ultimately is built, the mission of the school remains to extend medical education in San Antonio and South Texas.”

“Our goal is to create opportunities for the students of San Antonio, including SAISD, to benefit from this new medical school,” said Doyle. “Our Founding Dean, Dr. Robyn Madson, will reach out to SAISD and other area school districts to determine how the medical school can work to promote the possibility of medical education in their students’ lives.”

“While we are disappointed that this project will not come to fruition at the Fox Tech campus, we wish UIW well on this endeavor wherever the new school ends up,” said SAISD Superintendent Dr. Sylvester Perez.  “For our part, we will continue to pursue an educational partnership with UIW to benefit our students, and separately we will explore other viable options for our surplus property at that campus.”

*Featured/top image: Rendering of the proposed medical school. Rendering courtesy of Centro San Antonio.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.