We support the $400 million St. Luke’s Hospital Master Plan expansion around its downtown campus. Our position has not changed since the city of Boise approved the land use a year ago and, in October, adopted it into its Blueprint Boise plan.
But the hospital and Boise’s future as host to a state-of-the-art medical center face one more critical hurdle: approval from the Ada County Highway District to close the long block of Jefferson Street between Avenue B and 1st Street. ACHD should vote to vacate and remove that obstacle, though it doesn’t have to make that decision at the close of public hearings scheduled for this week.
Time and again, we have heard frustration from East End neighborhood stakeholders about closing that section of Jefferson. We say ACHD should approve the closure but with a caveat — that the hospital and the affected neighborhoods have some final meetings about how best to make that closure work for all involved.
St. Luke’s is a critical medical resource that needs to remain anchored in the city and survive to serve future generations. To do that, it must evolve and modernize. In a tight urban setting that means it must grow slightly out — and substantially up — from its present footprint.
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As part of its overall development, the hospital proposes to build out its emergency room and critical care facilities and build a multistory structure for patients and services over what is now Jefferson. That would enhance its ability to serve emergency room patients (particularly stroke and cardiac issues), expand its intensive care capabilities and allow for its mission to provide integrated care at one central location.
To move forward St. Luke’s would have to pay market value for the Jefferson Street property (one appraisal came in at $1.8 million) and contribute to more than $8 million (working with the city and ACHD) of improvements to help offset the loss of the street. These include new traffic patterns, traffic signals, roundabouts, a milelong bicycle track, potential transit stops and other improvements.
The expansion would interrupt the east-west connectivity of Jefferson, one of a few routes one can use to get all the way across town. But we are persuaded, as the city was when it approved the project and ruled it was compatible, that a northward expansion of the campus over Jefferson is the best and most cost-effective option.
ACHD is charged with determining whether this closure is in the public interest and whether the hospital’s mitigation plan — those improvements to offset the loss of the street — are sufficient. Commissioners will begin hearing the hospital’s request and entertain public discussion over two nights beginning 6 p.m. Wednesday in the ACHD auditorium in Garden City.
Though some have suggested that the St. Luke’s plan includes an inordinate number of medical office buildings that could be located elsewhere in the city, we don’t buy that. To the contrary, we feel the proximity and convenience in the new plans serve patients trying to get well. Whether they would enter through the emergency room or begin with a visit to their doctor on campus, they can quickly and easily navigate to adjacent or nearby buildings for tests or even admittance to the hospital.
The need for medical center upgrades and expansion are not in question — it is going to happen somewhere in the St. Luke’s system. So it seems in the public interest of Boise — which will be most affected — to benefit from the clinical upgrades and an infusion of $400 million into the downtown area over a 30-year build-out. This development will stimulate the economy and create jobs.
All this has been discussed in forums ad nauseum, to the credit of St. Luke’s and to the credit of the passionate community members opposed to the closure of Jefferson. However, those groups remain at odds. We think there is room for further discussion, to ensure these neighbors have as friendly a relationship as possible as plans move forward. The question they should ask is not whether the hospital should develop north over Jefferson, but what are the best ways to offset its impact.
To their credit, spokespersons from the hospital and the neighborhood both told us they are willing to talk and are interested in the best outcome. We hope ACHD is willing to use its influence and platform to encourage these final discussions. We all want what is best for the neighborhood and the hospital that will serve it for decades to come.
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ACHD public hearings on St. Luke’s expansion
The meetings are scheduled over two days next week: 6 p.m. Wednesday in the ACHD auditorium, 3775 Adams St., in Garden City, and again at 6 p.m. Thursday at the same location. Find details at the ACHD website: achdidaho.org.