Charlotte hospital plans $168.5M expansion

Dec. 2--Charlotte's Presbyterian Hospital has begun a $168.5 million expansion that will add 90 patient rooms and other improvements in two new wings at the main campus on Hawthorne Lane near uptown.

Hospital officials say it's the first phase of a planned $301 million project, one of the largest capital investments in the institution's 105-year history.

Presbyterian is responding to patients' needs, but also focusing on upgrades to make the hospital a magnet for medical professionals, said Steven Burke, vice president of real estate and construction.

The additional space -- 101,440 square feet called the F Wing and 33,000 square feet in the G Wing -- will push the hospital's size to nearly 1.3 million square feet with 607 beds by fall 2010.

Hospital expansion is a Next Big Thing both nationwide and in the region, where Charlotte's Presbyterian Healthcare and Carolinas HealthCare System (808 beds at its Blythe Boulevard campus) have invested probably $1 billion or more in facilities over the past few years.

The health care industry is responding to consistent population growth and increased use of medical facilities by aging adults, said Frank Spencer, president and CEO of Cogdell Spencer Inc. His Charlotte-based company has developed or built 1,500 medical office buildings and specialty facilities such as health centers and surgery centers across the country.

National health care experts say baby boomers -- about 75 million nationwide -- are a driving force in medical development even as other facets of the real estate industry slow.

Financing is becoming an issue for health care systems, but projects in the planning and construction stages before the economic tailspin are moving forward, Spencer said.

"Anything that is capital-intensive is much harder to finance than it was 120 days ago," he said, "but banks and other lenders are still funding pipeline projects."

Presbyterian's Burke said financing for the hospital's first phase is in place, but parent company Novant Health is reviewing all of its projects. Money for orthopedics, cancer care, outpatient surgery and parking improvements planned in a later phase of the project is yet to be allocated.

Presbyterian's main facility has been in the Elizabeth neighborhood since 1918, when it moved from West Trade Street to the 20-acre former campus of Elizabeth College.

The college complex housed all hospital functions until 1940, when Presbyterian's first new building -- where the main entrance is now -- opened at 200 Hawthorne Lane.

The school of nursing and other departments later occupied the old building, which was demolished in 1980 for new construction.

Expansions over the years helped the campus grow to its current size within an oversized block bounded by Hawthorne, Fifth Street, Caswell Road and Fourth Street.

In recent years, Presbyterian Healthcare and Carolinas HealthCare System, consistent with a national trend, have invested heavily in suburban satellite facilities, but their main campuses have been a focal point, too.

Smaller suburban hospitals can handle general medicine and basic surgery, said Spencer at Cogdell Spencer.

But, he said, the most complicated procedures are likely to be done at a hospital system's main campus, where there's a critical mass of surgeons, specialists and support staff.

"Suburban hospitals are the feeders of that tertiary care," he said. "When you need a hip replacement, open heart surgery or highly technical neurosurgery, it will happen where the specialists and the concentration of resources are."

That's true at Presbyterian, where officials say the hospital continues to emphasize complex tertiary care services and while responding to an expanding residential base within five miles of the campus.

In the 90 years since Presbyterian moved into Elizabeth, the city's second oldest streetcar neighborhood has been rediscovered and revitalized.

The Elizabeth Community Association, of course, is very interested in any project likely to disrupt traffic and attract construction vehicles.

"Presbyterian didn't need any zoning changes to do this, but they kept us abreast of their plans," said Melanie Sizemore, an association board member. "As a courtesy they came to us and explained what construction would do in terms of traffic patterns and lane closures," she said. "We have a good relationship with them."

Presbyterian also is partnering with Grubb Properties on the ongoing revitalization of Elizabeth Avenue.

Grubb and the hospital control about 80 percent of the property on six city blocks roughly between Hawthorne and Independence Boulevard.

City crews have been working for the past year on a $9 million project to improve a one-mile stretch of Elizabeth Avenue between the hospital and the Central Piedmont Community College campus.

Presbyterian spokeswoman Marcia Meredith said the revitalization project under way with Grubb is expected to enhance the approach to the hospital and create a vibrant district of shops and residences in close proximity.

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