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DULUTH — The University of Minnesota is planning a new academic health care center in Duluth's growing downtown medical district, it announced Thursday.

A 2018 study showed a need to expand the U's University of Minnesota Duluth-housed regional medical and pharmacy programs to meet demand, a news release says. The university intends to work with the region's largest medical centers, Essentia Health and St. Luke's, and its 2022 legislative request includes $12 million to design the facility.

The collaboration will prepare a health care workforce to better address the needs of Duluth, local Indigenous populations and greater Minnesota, officials say.

"The University of Minnesota is committed to expanding our capacity to provide world-class care for Minnesotans in greater Minnesota," said University President Joan Gabel in a news release.

She said the new building would include classrooms and specialty labs and offer students more chances to work in clinical settings, creating "a sense of continuity" for them. The goal is a fall 2025 opening near Essentia's and St. Lukes' downtown hospitals. While Essentia plans to demolish its current hospital when its new one opens in 2023, the U isn't saying whether that spot is a contender.

The exact location will be determined at a later date, said Kat Dodge, a spokeswoman for the U Medical School.

Health care in Duluth accounts for about 30% of local employment, according to the city of Duluth. Mayor Emily Larson said she first approached U regent David McMillan about investing in the medical district when the city received state aid for it in 2019. McMillan serves Duluth's congressional district.

The university embraced the idea, she said.

"It's been a top priority once we secured the $100 million for the medical district to ensure it is leveraged for the public good" and private expansion in that district, Larson said.

This project does that, she said, using public funding to ensure the entire region benefits.

Essentia is in the middle of a $900 million construction project that includes a new hospital, and St. Luke's recently built a new emergency department and is also planning a new hospital.

Essentia CEO Dr. David Herman said the expanded partnership will help the organization "attract and retain top talent, ensuring sustainable health care for our region."

Hands-on training would be available to students at St. Luke's and Essentia, and clinical faculty from both medical and pharmacy programs could practice with both organizations.

Dodge said the academic health center would be an extension of the UMD campuses' medical and pharmacy programs and facilities.