Owners of Bella Milano restaurants in Edwardsville and Springfield decided to open an O'Fallon location along Interstate 64 in 2012 because the area seemed poised for growth.
Little did they know that a $300 million, 144-bed hospital would be built in the neighborhood five years later.
"It was like winning the lottery," said Director of Stores Tom Guarino, son of Sam Guarino, who co-owns Bella Milano with Craig Kalogerou. "We were very happy. We were pumped up, and we still are."
It's been nearly six months since Hospital Sisters Health System closed the old St. Elizabeth's Hospital in downtown Belleville and opened the new one in O'Fallon.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Tom Guarino said the development has boosted business at Bella Milano, an Italian restaurant on Regency Park.
"Any time new business comes into an area, it's a good thing," he said. "But when you have a hospital of that caliber building across the street, it's a great thing."
Another beneficiary is Dewey's Pizza, also on Regency Park, the 25th location of an Ohio-based pizza chain.
General Manager Justin Graf can't make before-and-after comparisons like Bella Milano because the restaurant didn't open until Nov. 13, nine days after the hospital. But he considers doctors, nurses and other employees an important part of his customer base.
"We get carryout orders from them during lunch," Graf said. "And then at night, people will come in, and you can tell they work at St. Elizabeth's. They'll be wearing scrubs, or they'll have badges. We get a lot of business from the hospital."
There are several pharmacies within a mile of St. Elizabeth's, so competition is strong on that front.
Colleen Rose, manager of Dierberg's Pharmacy in Green Mount Crossing, across I-64 in Shiloh, has noticed changes in business in the past six months.
"(The hospital) has helped," she said. "I don't know if it's helped significantly, but we are getting more prescriptions from people who have been discharged or had emergency room visits. ... It's definitely not a negative. It's good to have St. Elizabeth's here."
Drury Inn & Suites in O'Fallon, also on the south side of the interstate, is one of several hotels where people stay while visiting loved ones in the hospital.
One woman made Drury her "home away from home" for six weeks after her husband had a heart attack, general manager Ashley Timmons said. Otherwise, she would have had to commute 90 minutes each way.
"I liked checking in with her at breakfast every day and seeing how her husband was doing," Timmons said.
The woman's two daughters and grandchildren also spent time at the hotel, which promotes family-friendly perks such as free hot breakfasts and evening appetizers, soups and salads.
The hospital does its own calculations on state and regional economic impact. It recently released an annual report in conjunction with the Illinois Health and Hospital Association.
"St. Elizabeth's has a total annual economic impact of $451,740,663," it concluded.
The hospital reported that last year it:
▪ Employed 1,059 health care professionals (full-time equivalent), spending nearly $74 million on payroll, creating an additional 1,391 jobs in the community and generating nearly $177 million in economic activity.
▪ Spent more than $95 million on goods and services, resulting in nearly $228 million in economic activity.
▪ Invested nearly $20 million in capital improvements to enhance and update facilities and major medical equipment, generating more than $47 million in economic activity.
"We're not necessarily trying to toot our own horn," said David Nosacka, HSHS division chief financial officer for Southern Illinois. "But we provide a lot of stimulus to the area around us."
The hospital's capital-improvement figure will go up in next year's report because it will include many bills related to 2017 construction, he said.
St. Elizabeth's has long argued that metro-east residents are helping local and state economies when they seek medical care close to home instead of driving to St. Louis. HSHS is based in Springfield.
"You can get the same level of care, the same standard of care and maybe even better care and greater amenities by staying local," Nosacka said. "You as the patient have a direct benefit, but there's a community benefit. You're supporting jobs, not just hospital jobs, but also other jobs in the community."
The city of O'Fallon doesn't yet have statistics on how St. Elizabeth's has effected local business, but City Administrator Walter Denton and Community Development Director Ted Shekell feel there is anecdotal evidence.
Traffic has increased, they said, and business owners seem happy.
"(The hospital) is a draw, and it's having an impact on the community, not just economically, but also culturally and socially," Shekell said.
City officials are particularly pleased with the result of a municipal project that widened and landscaped Green Mount Road from I-64 to the St. Elizabeth's entrance.
O'Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce Director Debbie Arell-Martinez said road construction was challenging for drivers, but now that it's completed, most people think it was worth it.
"Traffic is moving along," she said. "It's improved, and it looks beautiful. ... We have a stoplight at Cambridge Boulevard, and that's helped. It's safer."