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Articles / 2008

Plan for new hospital facility shared
Community Memorial will help revitalize midtown, official says

Ventura County Star
Friday, 07/18/2008
By Tom Kisken

Community Memorial Hospital's $300 million plan to build a replacement facility over the next five years holds the key to a revitalized midtown Ventura, City Manager Rick Cole told business leaders Thursday.

"Failure is not an option with this project," Cole said at a Ventura Chamber of Commerce breakfast, noting the project is about more than healthcare. "This is about the future vision of what we want Ventura to be."

Gary Wilde, Community Memorial's CEO and president, told chamber members and others that the new hospital would sit directly behind the current facility, bordering Brent Street and Cabrillo Drive. It would be six stories and stand about 100 feet tall, about the same as the existing hospital.

The design is still conceptual and the look could change, Wilde said. The official government approval process won't start for several months, although the city participated in a community planning process for the project in April.

Hospital officials hope construction begins in two years and the new facility opens in 2013. As with similar construction across the state, the project is being driven by a state law requiring hospitals to meet new seismic standards in five years.

The old hospital would remain but wouldn't be used for in-patient or emergency services. Parts of the old structure could be leased as medical offices or to startup incubator businesses.

Much of Thursday's meeting centered on the role the hospital could play in bringing new businesses and a new look to midtown Ventura. Wilde said the project could include at least one city park, pedestrian-friendly corridors, two streets that would access the hospital off Main Street and a new 600-car parking structure.

He said the project could attract new business that might bring new two- and three-story buildings along Main Street. The buildings might be shared by retailers, medical businesses and even condominiums.

The community planning process held earlier this year brought suggestions of angled parking on Main and roundabout traffic circles designed to ease congestion.

In explaining the importance of the project, Cole cited the city's inability many years ago to bring a state university to Ventura and failed efforts to redevelop midtown. He said the city can't afford another failure and needs a success similar to the transformation of downtown Main Street.

"It's a downtown that has come back from the dead," he said. "Downtown shows we can succeed."

The hospital project's significance is also reflected by healthcare's rank as the second-largest source of high-value, high-wage jobs in Ventura, Cole said.

Wilde said the plans include private patient rooms and an emergency room four times the size of the current one. There would be larger surgical suites and more critical-care beds.

The $300 million price tag includes all associated costs and equipment, as well as state-mandated retrofitting at Community Memorial's sister hospital, Ojai Valley Community Hospital.

Wilde said most of the money would be borrowed through bonds, but he's also counting on donations and existing revenues. He said the financing will be very tight.

"This is what keeps me up at night," he said.