If you are only invested in Belleville, there are not a lot of positives that come to mind about St. Elizabeth’s Hospital moving to O’Fallon on Nov. 4. Business owners are worried, not because they will lose a lot of folks in scrubs but rather the patients and their families and visitors who were drawn to the facility near the downtown business district.
“Now are we going to miss them? Yes, we’re going to miss them. But I don’t believe we’re going to be dramatically impacted,” Mayor Mark Eckert said.
That seems to match the gut reaction: Not good news, but not a disaster.
What seems to be more exciting are the possibilities because St. E’s already has a contractor to raze the old hospital building, heart center and parking garage. That will leave open land very close to the downtown business district.
“That’s a redevelopment opportunity in the heart of downtown,” said Annissa McCaskill, director of the city’s Economic Development, Planning & Zoning Department. “We have to have an outlook that this is an opportunity. How many communities would kill to have prime real estate right in their downtown sector available?”
It reminds you of the opportunities after military bases closed and everyone wrung their hands, then all that open land found new investors and was added to the tax roles. That’s what we’ve seen at the old U.S. Army depot in Granite City, which lost helicopters but is now America’s Central Port with 1,200 acres of manufacturing, warehouse and transportation by river, rail and road that plays a central role in the region’s economy.
Something good for Belleville can come out of the hospital move with a little planning, creativity and investment. Get lemons, make lemonade.