Portland's Mercy Hospital Plans New $162 Million Expansion

Dec. 30--Mercy Hospital submitted a master plan this week for a $162 million expansion at its new site on the Fore River.

The location -- fully visible from Interstate 295 and the highway's new exit to Commercial Street -- promises to raise the hospital's public profile and allow for future expansions.

The first phase of the plan calls for a five-story, 150,000-square-foot hospital and a three-story, 75,000-square-foot medical office building.

Future phases would include a hospital addition of up to 200,000 square feet, a second medical office building and a hospital administration building. The plan also shows several parking areas.

The existing hospital at 144 State St. is expected to remain open for several years. Future plans for the building are unclear.

The Planning Board is scheduled to review the master plan for the 27-acre campus at a workshop on Jan. 10. A public hearing will be held at a later date.

Hospital officials hope to receive master-plan approval and complete a more detailed site-plan review this spring. If that happens, construction of the $71 million first phase would start by summer 2006.

Hospital and city officials plan to collaborate on the Fore River project to ensure the best results for a long-overlooked gateway to Portland.

"We're taking an area that's undeveloped and turning it into something that will be a showpiece," Michael Hachey, Mercy's chief financial officer, said Thursday.

Planning officials say they will pay particular attention to the project's impact on the look of the western end of Portland's downtown peninsula, which is dominated by the Maine Medical Center complex and a variety of industrial buildings along the interstate and St. John Street.

"It really is a gateway, so we're both very conscious of the views of the project and the importance of the facility to the city of Portland," said Jean Fraser, city planner.

The buildings are being designed by Francis Cauffman Foley Hoffmann Architects of Philadelphia and SMRT of Portland. Preliminary plans show brick structures with both modern and gothic features similar to those of older Roman Catholic churches.

"We want to . . . create a building that reflects the architecture of the city and the hospital's faith-based heritage," Hachey said.

Mercy Hospital is part of Catholic Health East, a multi-institutional health system that's sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Regional Community of Portland. Mercy is a nonprofit organization, so it would pay no property taxes on the new hospital building. The medical office building would be owned by a private developer who would pay property taxes, Hachey said.

The project's total cost could very well exceed $162 million, Hachey said, because China's rapid development and recent natural disasters have driven up demand for construction materials such as concrete and steel.

The Fore River project received a zoning change in December 2001 that allowed the hospital to build in an industrial district. Mercy originally purchased 85.5 acres from Merrill Industries Inc. and the Portland Terminal Co. The parcel included more than 40 acres of mudflats along the river. The buildable land included 7.5 acres that Mercy transferred to the Maine Department of Transportation for the I-295 connector road and 27 acres for the new campus.

More recently, the project received state transportation and environmental permits, said Stephen Bushey, senior engineer at DeLuca Hoffman Associates of South Portland, the firm that designed Mercy's master plan.

The master plan preserves a marshy area at the center of the campus that was created when a gravel pit was dug during construction of the nearby Veterans Memorial Bridge in the 1950s.

Bushey said the marshy area, along with a new walking trail along the Fore River, will be landscape features of the Fore River project. "Finally, the West End has its own waterfront trail," he said.

(Portland Press Herald (Maine) (KRT) -- 01/02/06)