Eugene Weekly : News : 4.17.08

Hospital Siting
UO land, downtown, EWEB, Glenwood still on the table

Given the high price and possible delays, city of Eugene Planning and Development Director Susan Muir told the City Council April 14 that she didn’t think McKenzie-Willamette Hospital would want to locate on the UO Riverfront Research Park property.

“We think this site would rank low” for the hospital, she said.

But when councilors at the meeting asked the hospital CEO Maurine Cate directly, they got a starkly different answer.

“The hospital finds the location on the Franklin Boulevard site very interesting,” said Cate. She described the site between the railroad tracks and boulevard as a “very good place” to do business.

City staff estimated the site could cost $155 million to $250 million, based on UO demands to pay for constructing replacement buildings, and buying 60 replacement acres near the university. Eugene Assistant City Manager Angel Jones said the city unsuccessfully offered to build a parking garage for the UO as part of the deal. Jones called the high UO demands “very disheartening.” She said, “the bottom line was it was not for sale.”

But Councilor Alan Zelenka said the city should look for creative ways to make the south Eugene site work for the hospital. The hospital CEO is still interested, “so we should still be interested in this site.” The council voted 5-2 to continue negotiating with the UO for the site until the end of May.

Councilor Bonny Bettman said Eugene needs a hospital near densely populated areas south of the river for public safety reasons. If a trauma victim is rushed to the remaining Sacred Heart clinic downtown after the hospital moves to RiverBend in north Springfield, “you’re going to get rolled into a helicopter and flown over the river.”

“I think there’s some hard negotiating that needs to happen here,” Bettman said. She said the UO’s demands were just the “opening volley” in negotiations.

Zelenka said the city may be able to trade the Civic Stadium baseball site to the UO for land.

Mayor Kitty Piercy said the city should look for a variety of swaps and ask the UO, “What do you need that we have?”

Zelenka said the UO may also be convinced to only sell the third of the site needed for the hospital. “I’m puzzled why the university has to have it be an all-or-nothing thing.”

Bettman said even if the city had to buy all the property, it would still be valuable and available for other city uses. She said the site could be developed more quickly by phasing construction while the UO relocates.

Bettman said the city could also use urban renewal funds to help finance the acquisition. While the UO pays no taxes to urban renewal, the for-profit hospital will, she pointed out. “It pays for itself.”

If the UO won’t sell the land for the public interest of siting a hospital, the city should consider canceling the urban renewal area for the research park because it diverts money from school and local government funding, Bettman said.

“We are in a position of strength to negotiate” with the UO, Bettman said. The councilor said in the past the city has taken “a lot of very generous action on behalf of the UO,” including subsidizing public safety and arena parking and waiving or rewriting city regulations. The UO is now asking for more help and code changes with plans to build a basketball arena and baseball stadium, Bettman said. “There’s a lot the university wants from the city.”

Piercy and Bettman said the city should also reconsider use of the EWEB site along the river for the hospital, now that the utility is closer to moving its maintenance yard.

Piercy and Councilor Betty Taylor said the city and hospital should also re-examine the Eugene Clinic site near 12th and Willamette. Taylor said the centrally located clinic and adjacent parking lots that PeaceHealth plans to vacate should be “the number one site” for McKenzie-Willamette.

Councilor Mike Clark said the city should support locating the hospital on north Eugene sites on the edge of the city owned by School District 4J and The Register-Guard.

Muir recommended that the city continue to pursue those north Eugene sites, but said the hospital had grown concerned that they lacked unanimous support, so the sites had “fallen down a little” in their eyes.

Taylor said there’s no public interest in subsidizing the north Eugene sites on the edge of town and near RiverBend.

“There are some pretty big obstacles” to the R-G and 4J sites, Bettman said. Bettman said for trauma safety, having a hospital south of the river is the public’s “highest priority.”

Glenwood, an unannexed area which is technically part of Springfield, has been mentioned as a possible hospital location close to south Eugene. If the choice is south of the river or not in Eugene, Bettman said, apparently referring to Glenwood, “then I’m going to go with south of the river.”

Muir said the city remains open to considering other sites for the hospital in south Eugene. “We are still trying to turn over any site.”