Hospital questions

As opening of new facility nears, future of old buildings unclear

The current UP Health System-Marquette hospital is located along College Avenue. As construction of the new hospital site along Baraga Avenue reaches the final phase, community members question what’s to become of the current hospital complex site and several UPHS-owned properties nearby. (Journal photo by Jaymie Depew)

MARQUETTE — As the new LifePoint Health hospital in Marquette nears the final stages of construction, the question of what will happen to the enormous structure along College Avenue has been raised by community members since LifePoint announced its plan for a new hospital in the fall of 2014, but officials have yet to give a definitive answer.

The new 275-bed hospital project along Baraga Avenue is estimated to cost around $300 million and is expected to be fully operational by April.

Last week, the Marquette Planning Commission conducted a review of the future land use map as a part of a comprehensive update to the community master plan.

According to Marquette City Planner Dave Stensaas, the commission during the review recommended by vote that the vacant properties and properties near the current hospital complex, which have single-family homes located in the existing neighborhoods north of Piqua Street, east of Seventh Street, west of Fourth Street and south of Magnetic Street, be designated as general residential use.

“This designation is generally consistent with the existing land uses — and the underlying zoning designation — as these properties are currently subject to a hospital-specific zoning overlay district that subject them to special standards,” Stensaas said in an email.

Based upon the future land map use designation, Stensaas said the planning commission recommends the land use for the central campus be “mixed-use,” which is a combination of residential and office/business, while the small properties in existing neighborhoods revert back to their underlying residential use classification.

“The planning commission would like to hear an update on any future plans for the hospital campus,” Stensaas added.

In a letter to UPHS Market President and CEO Brian Sinotte, Ridge Street resident Gregory Sulik expressed concern regarding the sale of the surrounding empty lots and homes owned by the for-profit LifePoint Health.

“It is my understanding that consideration is underway to sell these off in bulk to a large developer. If this is true, I would urge a reconsideration to sell these off to individual home owners,” the letter reads.

Sulik said he has witnessed many changes due to the hospital over the years.

“Most of these changes were seen as unfavorable to the residents who live nearby,” he said. “It seems that selling these empty lots to a large developer would add even more contempt for an already bad situation. It would bode much better to the Marquette community if UP Health would offer these back to individuals who might be interested in rebuilding neighborhood quality homes on the sites where similar homes once existed.”

Aaron Andres, chairman of the planning commission, said the commission is unsure of what’s to become of the hospital properties since the city doesn’t own it. The planning and city commissions plan to meet in the near future to discuss the properties and until then, Andres said he doesn’t have any further comment.

During a March 2016 city commission meeting, UPHS representatives said they were considering retaining a portion of the property north of College Avenue for office space, including the parking structure and Robert C. Neldberg Building, which were built in 1992, according to the hospital’s website.

An arts center, a student-run hotel and restaurant, a science center, a technology business incubator, office space for nonprofits and a veterans hospital were all ideas thrown out for the possible reuse of the existing hospital during a public forum that was held two months later. Since most nonprofits are exempt from paying state and federal income taxes, City Manager Mike Angeli has made one thing clear over the years — he hopes whatever becomes of the current hospital will generate tax revenue.

Hospital officials have been working along side the city to determine reuse of the facility.

Parts of the hospital complex on the south side of College Avenue date back to as early as 1915.

In 1897, its name changed to St. Luke’s Hospital, and by 1907 the need for a larger and more modern hospital to accommodate the city’s growing population became evident, according to the hospital’s website.

After a significant fundraising effort and a major property donation by the Longyear family, St. Luke’s Hospital opened in 1915 on Hebard Court, around where the current facility has expanded.

The Northern Michigan Children’s Clinic was built adjacent to the hospital in 1931, and the Wallace Building, which currently holds most of the hospital’s administrative offices, was constructed four years later, originally as a dormitory for students in St. Luke’s School of Nursing.

In 1973, St. Luke’s merged with Marquette’s other hospital, St. Mary’s, to form Marquette General Hospital.

In 1979, MGH began building the eight-story South Tower, followed by construction of the East Building on the site of the Children’s Clinic in 1984, the Robert C. Neldberg Building and parking ramp in 1992, the Bridge Building in 2000 and several smaller additions in the years after.

LifePoint Health acquired MGH, which was a nonprofit and tax-exempt entity, in 2012. Under the agreement, which was approved by the state’s attorney general, LifePoint is required to make a minimum $170-million initial capital investment, and a total of $300 million in capital improvements over a 10-year period regarding the new hospital site.

In April 2016, the Marquette City Commission, by a 4-1 vote, agreed to a 12-year, 50-percent tax abatement for the 37 acres of property. The tax amount for the total 12 years is roughly $11.12 million, or an average of about $927,000 per year.

Hospital officials were contacted for this article and declined to comment this morning.