SSM Health Planning for Massive Development at SLU Medical Campus

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nextSTL has learned SSM Health’s early plans for its, soon to be, most recent acquisition call for the possible demolition of the existing Saint Louis University (SLU) Hospital. SSM recently reached a deal with SLU and Tenet Healthcare to purchase the hospital. The university is purchasing the hospital from Tenet, which has owned the facility since 1998. SLU will then contribute the hospital to SSM in exchange for a minority membership interest.

SLU will retain a financial interest and governance rights in SSM, and the healthcare company will own and operate the 356-bed teaching hospital. Additionally, SLU Hospital employees will become SSM employees. According to a press release the transaction between SSM Health and the university is expected to be finalized later this summer. It will be subject to regulatory approvals, and financial terms of the transaction will not be disclosed.

nextSTL sources say the most ambitious early plans feature construction of a $400-500M hospital on the campus bounded by South Grand Blvd., Hickory St., Rutger St., and South Spring Ave. along I-44. The project should move fast, as it was further revealed, by a source close to the deal, a component to the agreement requires a project start date no later than two years from the finalization date of the purchase.

SLU/SSM medical campus{land clearance has created substantial space for redevelopment – Desloge Tower at left}

Reached for comment, SSM Health spokesperson Jamie Sherman shared that a capital plan is underway for the hospital complex, stating, “SSM Health is committed to making significant investments in SLU hospital to allow us to continue to provide exceptional care.” Asked about the development plan, Sherman stated that it is too early to confirm any details.

City records also show SLU is currently seeking a zoning change for land neighboring the hospital grounds across Rutger between Spring and Grand. On Sunday, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Samantha Liss reported SLU has already closed Hickory St., across from the land seeking rezoning. Liss also noted this land was not mentioned in 2012 plans when SLU received approval to demolish the Pevely Dairy complex. That site, near SLU Hospital at the corner of Grand and Chouteau Avenues, was cleared except for the corner building to make way for a proposed $75 million SLUCare physicians outpatient center. That project is reportedly no longer happening.

Tenet had also been planning for construction that would have likely featured demolition on the medical campus. nextSTL has learned that in 2013 the Lawrence Group was working on designs for a new $100 million tower on the SLU Hospital campus. However, Tenet was dragging its feet. The project had been temporarily shelved at the time the recent deal was struck.

Any demolition or development plans have not been finalized, but are said to be examining all options, including the removal of Desloge Tower, the complex’s most iconic structure. Built in 1933, the Modern Gothic Revival soars ten stories above a high base, and is topped by a steeply-pitched slope to its easily identifiable roof of copper, pale green in patina.

The SLU medical complex is a agglomeration of decades of add-ons and renovations. Just as the Barnes-Jewish and Washington University in St. Louis campus has begun to untangle itself with a billion-dollar redevelopment plan, it’s expected that a new master plan and significant development will reshape this area over the next decade.

Desloge Tower served as the main hospital building of the Saint Louis University Medical Center until a reorganization in 1959 resulted in a new official name, SLU Hospital. Much of the currently modern campus is composed of structures constructed during a 1986 addition to Firmin Desloge Hospital. Michael Allen of the Preservation Research Office suggested the city would gain two new assets with a new medical center that featured a historic residential tower for employees and staff.

“I would hope that there could be consideration of saving the historic Firmin Desloge Hospital with its exceptional chapel by nationally-acclaimed architect Ralph Adams Cram.” Allen continued, “No one will cry if the ungainly addition is demolished and replaced — in fact it would improve the city’s skyline and the historic hospital building to be free from that dull form.”

SSM Health is one of the nation’s biggest Catholic not-for-profit health systems. According to Hoovers the company owns approximately 20 acute care hospitals with about 2,000 licensed beds.

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  • Ashley

    Siggggh when will they ever do something with the old and sad Pevely parcel?

    • Alex Ihnen

      Hopefully sell it, though it seems unlikely.

  • Who does the research in these articles? “nextSTL sources say the most ambitious early plans feature construction of a $400-500M hospital on the campus bounded by South Grand Blvd., Hickory St., Rutger St., and South Spring Ave. along I-44.” South Spring is nowhere near 1-44. South Spring hits I-44 at Lafayette. Is SSM buying out the whole Tiffany neighborhood and razing all of the houses?

    • Alex Ihnen

      The author does the research, generally. The SLU medical campus is indeed bounded by the streets cited in the article.

      • South Spring runs into !-44 through the 19th ward but is not part of the SSM zoning. What am I missing here?

        • Alex Ihnen

          Not sure. Spring is the n/s street east of 39th and west of Grand. It’s probably the most clear border of the medical campus, though parking lots extend west to 39th. But you’re right, the medical campus sits 2.5 blks north of I-44 and follows Park from Spring.

    • Geoff Whittington

      It was a general description of the hospital’s location. Sorry to confuse you.

  • neroden

    Desloge Tower really needs to be preserved. If it makes sense to convert it to apartments or offices, do that, but it needs to be preserved. You have too few decent buildings in St Louis.

    • Adam

      I agree 1000% with preserving Desloge, but compared to our peer cities (i.e. those that don’t have many times our population) we have a TON of “decent” buildings in St. Louis, particularly historic ones. And, yes, we need to keep as many of them as possible.

  • markgroth

    Does the transition from Tenet to SSM/SLU mean that the hospital no longer will pay property taxes?

    • moorlander

      From the 6/5 Business Journal
      “Under the deal, SLU Hospital will shift to nonprofit status, meaning the city stands to lose up to $6 million in annual tax revenue from what was it’s only for-profit hospital.
      According to the figures from the city of St. Louis, SLU Hospital paid $884,468 in personal property tax in 2014. The hospital’s 13 parcels of land also generated $1.55 million in real estate tax last year. The hospital also paid out $3.5 million in sales tax in 2014.”

      • John R

        That’s a huge amount. That is another downer of having small geography, too; we don’t have a lot of land relative to many others but we still have the heavy concentration of the major non-profit institutions serving the Metro.

        Having a strong and growing hospital certainly is a benefit to the City, but we should examine instituting some form of Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs) that are beneficial for everyone. One thing that comes to mind is PILOTs for BJC and SLU that would help underwrite affordable housing in surrounding neighborhoods or perhaps public transit expansion like Saint Louis Streetcar.

        • tbatts666

          I am in medicine I am not so sure hospitals are as beneficial as one might think. Just being in a hospital can put you at so many risks (adverse drug reactions, drug resistant hospital acquired infections, unnecessary procedures, outrageous bills).

          The sensical place to put public support in is reducing reasons why people go to hospitals. Good urban policies, and economic policy That provide feedback can actually do that.

          Medicine is just a small part of maintaining good community health. So I am not so sure we should allow slu hospital to act like they are so entitled to this upcoming tax-free status. They need to earn the right to be publicly subsidized. Right?

          • John R

            I’m not so sure I understand what you are asking the City to do; I don’t believe local governments are allowed to assess a property tax on non-profits under Missouri law. But they can ask for PILOTs.

  • Ebsy

    They can’t be serious about tearing down Desloge.

  • Michael C.

    Save Firmin-Desloge NOW! We cannot let it fall. It is an iconic building. If they could save the Saucer, they can save this building of much higher merit. Also, I would not be opposed to new modern buildings on the campus or if they would demolish the additions. That’s totally fine. But to demolish the Desloge Tower would be a crime!

  • Sean McElligott

    There is already a facebook page that is fighting to make sure it dose not get torn down

  • John Warren

    ONLY in St. Louis would a tower as iconic and historic be allowed to be torn down. There is more than enough room nearby for brand new hospital buildings. That building could easily be adapted as offices or a residential use. I’d even argue for more demolition of the small nearby houses in order to save this structure. This is more architecturally significant than ANY building on BJC’s campus, including the 1920’s Barnes hospital building. My jaw would literally drop off if the city allowed them to demolish Desloge.

    • jhoff1257

      As a KC resident I would wholeheartedly disagree with that first statement. Be thankful St. Louis has left what it does, it has a far better preservation track record then most other Midwestern cities.

      Outside of that, no one is tearing it down yet. Nothing has been confirmed and the plans are in their very early stages. Normally I’d be freaking out, but I really can’t see the city allowing this. It does have some very light preservation protection though it is not a city landmark nor is it on any historical register. Either way, I don’t think we should be too concerned just yet. Like someone else said, if we can save the saucer up the street we can save this too.

      I’ll also add that it’s one thing to let a few houses fall for a gas station (also absurd) but after all the talk the Mayor and the President of the Board of Alderman laid down after they shamelessly let Cupples 7 fall, letting this go would just be a total slap in the face. I really just can’t see it.

  • Hmmmm I wonder if they will include the Tiffany Neighborhood Association as this falls within our neighborhood boundaries unlike before where the neighborhood wasn’t even consulted before they tore down the houses on Hickory or started tearing down the Pevely lots….

    • tbatts666

      Such a travesty how Slu has torn down and land banked as a tax free non-profit.

  • equstl

    It’ll be interesting to see if Lawrence Group or Christner gets the new project.

    • Tim E

      Have tough time seeing someone like Lawrence Group involved in a major medical project of this scope. The building and construction gets pretty complicated. More in line with some of the bigger projects that McCarthy of St. Louis has done on the West Coast medical projects they have done as of late.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Locally, Cannon, Forum Studio, and HOK have done work on this scale.

    • Interested

      I would believe if we hear mention of Lawrence Group that would be good for some type of Desloge redevelopment. Firms like HOK, Cannon, Forum, Christner would suggest new and large replacement facilities.

  • rgbose

    Please put something next to Doisy!

    • tbatts666

      What an demeaning building. It’s Slu giving the middle finger to the traditional development pattern of the city.

      I have never seen anyone utilize that green space around doisy, and I am there quite a bit. A wasteland of empty benches.

  • Presbyterian

    If the try to demolish Desloge, I humbly predict a bloodbath.

    • Adam

      I sure as hell hope so. Would preservation review apply here?

      • jhoff1257

        I highly doubt that. Nothing else has been spared in that area so I can’t see how this one building would fall under review, though it (and the Med School building across the street) should.

        I would think that these plans will change a few times over before anything begins and that Desloge would most likely remain. Despite some egregious errors (especially in this area) in the past, I really can’t see the City OKing the demolition of such a significant and historic building. Desloge and the Med School building across the street is really all that’s left of a once great corridor between 44 and 64. Hopefully reason will prevail. Like Michael Allen said…I’d be fine with losing the modern addition in the back…just save the original tower.

        • Presbyterian

          Six months ago, the Preservation Board did prevent the demolition of the Missouri Belting Building just to the north. That’s a hopeful sign.

          • Tim E

            But wouldn’t you agree that was before SSM agreed to buy out Tenet and make the arrangement they did. I suspect that everything on the north side remaining, what little is left, is fair game once the city knows that the $500 million dollar investment is legit.
            My bet is city leadership will do what SLU wants to do as part of SSM/SLU investment and solidifying & strengthening the medical school is the long term goal

      • The hospital is protected by the city’s preservation ordinance, since it falls in the the 17th Ward preservation review district. Of course, the hospital has no individual City Landmark status, and this is not a local historic district, so the protection is the most minimal under the ordinance. The degree of protection depends on whether the Cultural Resources Office — the city’s preservation agency — rates the building as “Merit” or “High Merit” under the preservation ordinance.

        If the building is “High Merit” under the determination of the director of the Cultural Resources Office, the demolition can only be approved by the Preservation Board (which necessitates a public meeting and vote).

        • Geoff Whittington

          Let us also not forget the chapel of Christ the Crucified King, commonly known as Desloge Chapel, is housed in DeslogeTower. It was declared a landmark by the Missouri Historical Society in 1983.

    • moe

      And what would you use it for? Have you been in there? 40 and 50 year old technology and infrastructure does not mesh well with today’s. While the building is a beautiful one, again, what would you use it for?

      • Adam

        residential or hospitality (both sorely needed along grand), office space, class room space, etc. SLU/SSM can sell it and build the new hospital on one of their many many empty parcels.

      • jhoff1257

        If they plan on building a massive new hospital, which seems to be the case, then use it for residential, office, or a mixture of several uses. Doesn’t have to remain the main hospital building nor does it have to be the building that houses all the new modern equipment. If they plan on competing with BJC, dorms and other office space will certainly be needed. Personally I think all the empty land nearby and the historic Desloge building poses a nice opportunity for SSM. If done right they could build a pretty nice medical campus with a gorgeous historic building as it’s centerpiece.

        • Max

          Most of Desloges tower is actually not used for patient care. With the exception of the 13th floor where they do emergent cardiac catheterizations (inauspicious, I know), the majority of the structure houses departmental offices, conference rooms, and work rooms.

          • Alex Ihnen

            Right, which makes it much more adaptable to future use. Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati moved its offices into an historic building a couple years ago. Something similar would make sense at SLU:

          • John R

            Good to know…. are the offices generally in good shape or do you see a pretty significant renovation in order? I look forward to seeing what a campus master plan might reveal… If they keep the Desloge building, build well-designed modern facilities, re-utilize Missouri Belting and Pevely and unlock the potential of that huge cleared parcel across Chouteau — Cortex expansion, mixed-use TOD, etc., etc. — with a bit of residential and retail spriknkled around this would be transformative for not just SLU but a much larger surrounding area as well.

          • Max

            The offices are nearly all admin with private desk space for physicians (separate from exam rooms, which are located in a separate building next to the hospital). I’m sure that a renovation would be in order but right now I would say that Desloges is in fairly good shape. Doesn’t look like a world-class facility inside but in no need of a total overhaul. No comment about Bordley, which is the main hospital behind the building, though….

          • Peter Pranschke

            I like your vision, John R.

  • chaifetz10

    I’m all for new construction and untangling the current cluster of buildings. Just keep the historic hospital itself and I say build everything else brand new.