The state health board’s stamp of approval for St. Elizabeth’s Hospital to move from Belleville to O’Fallon is getting split reactions from business owners in the two cities.
O’Fallon-area business owners are eyeing an influx of new customers when the hospital opens its doors in O’Fallon in December 2017.
Belleville business owners, predictably, worry about losing the hospital and its roughly 1,300 workers.
‘Thrilled’ in O’Fallon
Cathy Mueller, owner of the Egg and I in O’Fallon, said she was “absolutely thrilled” to learn the new hospital will indeed be built nearby.
“We have always supported the project,” she said. “We are excited.”
Mueller predicts the lunch hour will be much busier once the move is done.
She said the Egg and I currently is busiest between 8:30 and 10 a.m. The restaurant closes at 2 p.m.
Paul Evans, owner of Evans Law Firm in O’Fallon, said businesses in the O’Fallon-Shiloh region will “positively benefit.” Evans is also vice president of the O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s going to be good for our employees and customers, that we have a modern, state-of-the-art healthcare facility,” he said.
Evans said he’s hopeful the new hospital will be a “significant component” when businesses and residents consider moving to O’Fallon.
The new hospital will bring new jobs to O’Fallon, but initially the metro-east region overall is not expected to see job growth from the move.
O’Fallon City Administrator Walter Denton said city planners view the new hospital as a long-term economic anchor for the city.
“We believe it would have a strong economic impact, but the numbers we don’t know right now,” Denton said. “Initially, the jobs that are coming over are new jobs, so if you are looking at countywide regional impact, there will be more jobs in O’Fallon, but many initially are the same jobs in Belleville right now. The hope is that there would be a spinoff of new businesses and other jobs and offices that will come from it. That’s why we’re entering into it for the long term.”
O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Debbie Arell-Martinez said the new hospital will be a welcome addition to the area.
“O’Fallon-Shiloh has established itself as a destination for economic growth,” Arell-Martinez said. “We’re thrilled to become a health care powerhouse for the region.”
Belleville ‘will feel it’
At Big Daddy’s, located on East Main Street in Belleville, co-owner Scott Schmelzel said the restaurant has had happy hours for St. Elizabeth’s employees, and he regularly sees hospital workers come to his place for lunch.
“When you take an employer out of the equation, like a hospital, which brings visitors to the area, it will have an economic impact,” Schmelzel said. “All of the local places will feel it in some capacity. I don’t know how big we will feel it. It’s sad to see a big employer leave.”
David Sandusky said he has also served hospital staff during lunch at his Beast Craft BBQ Co., which he opened a few months ago at 20 South Belt West in Belleville.
“I’m disappointed that they’re leaving,” Sandusky said. “But I don’t think that the city should be able to stop any business from growing or bettering themselves. Although it hurts my business, I would rather see the freedom and independence for a business.”
Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John Lengerman said he and other business owners in the city are disappointed that the hospital plans to leave. He hopes the hospital will reconsider the move.
“We will support the city in whatever efforts they want to go forward with,” Lengerman said. “We’ll continue to support efforts to try to have them stay in Belleville.”
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert has said the city will consider asking a court to review the state board’s decision.
Downtown Belleville will have a different look when the hospital closes its doors.
St. Elizabeth’s leaders say they’ll keep some medical services in Belleville after the move. They include an urgent-care center, doctor offices, labs and therapy services, which will be housed in the five medical office buildings adjacent to the current hospital.
“Those buildings are going to stay,” said Kelly Barbeau, spokeswoman for St. Elizabeth’s. “They will be repurposed for the services we’re leaving in Belleville.”
The fate of the seven-story St. Elizabeth’s building in Belleville is not yet known. Barbeau said hospital leaders are open to selling or leasing the building and land.
If no buyer or tenant can be found, the building will be demolished.
O’Fallon residents can look forward to a closer hospital when St. Elizabeth’s opens. However, metro-east residents accustomed to going to St. Elizabeth’s Urgicare Center in O’Fallon will no longer have that option.
The Urgicare Center, located at 1512 N. Green Mount Road, will close when the replacement hospital opens.
“If there’s a hospital right there, there’s no need for an urgent care,” Barbeau said.
The O’Fallon Medical Building that houses the Urgicare Center and several doctors’ offices will remain standing. Barbeau said the Urgicare portion will house a “combination of services that are still being finalized.”
St. Elizabeth’s new hospital will be a 144-bed building off Interstate 64 on North Green Mount Road. Its projected cost is $253 million. Adjacent to the new hospital, St. Elizabeth’s plans to build a $34 million ambulatory care center.
Both projects were unanimously approved by the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board during a meeting in Bolingbrook on Tuesday.
Next steps for St. E’s
The O’Fallon City Council has already approved the zoning changes required for the replacement hospital to be built. The approval was given prior to St. Elizabeth’s submitting its application to the state, according to Denton.
“They have all their approvals from the city council,” he said, and can start construction once the city receives and approves its building permits. “We have been meeting with them regularly as they have gone through the process.”
Denton said the city of O’Fallon has been “strongly supportive” of St. Elizabeth’s plan.
The City of O’Fallon in 2011 approved establishing a $22.5 million Tax Increment Financing district to spur the construction of the hospital. Up to $10 million in TIF funds is expected to be used for mine remediation.
Also in 2011, the city entered into an 86-page redevelopment agreement with Hospital Sisters Health System, the parent of St. Elizabeth’s.
“The city in the development agreement agreed to pay for the mine remediation up-front, but will be reimbursed through the TIF,” Denton said.
Also as part of the agreement, St. Elizabeth’s doesn’t have to pay the building permit fees up-front either, according to Denton. Instead, he said the city will be reimbursed the fees through revenue from the TIF.
The first phase of construction will include moving dirt on the site, grading and initial mine remediation.