Robertson demoliton could bring hospital expansion

The demolition of the historic building on North Lowry Avenue will allow Ohio Valley’s footprint to expand from about four acres to six acres. The hospital’s current facilities include the $15 million surgical hospital at 100 W. Main St. and the $5 million medical office building at 140 W. Main St. Demolition is expected to be completed this month.

The surgical hospital is also in the process of updating its master plan, which could lead to expansion at both the hospital and the medical office building in the future. The hospital is also considering building a parking garage for patients, said Chief Executive Officer Steve Eisentrager.

The new acreage will allow staging areas for construction crews if work were to begin on its campus in the near future. The hospital also owns the vacant land near the NTPRD Chiller on North Lowry Avenue, Eisentrager said.

“It just opens up a lot more options,” he said. “We’re actively doing feasibility studies on that right now. We see it as a pretty positive thing.”

During demolition on Thursday, a piece of the building fell, knocking down power lines and a utility pole and blocking traffic. Ohio Edison crews arrived on scene to repair the damage. The street on North Lowry Avenue between West Main Street and Columbia Avenue that was blocked was already scheduled to be closed during portions of the demolition, Eisentrager said.

The hospital bought the nearly 153,000-square-foot building at 14 N. Lowry Ave. from Zeus Building Inc. for $150,000 in June. In the short term, the demolition will provide about 75 to 100 parking spaces for the hospital’s 250 employees, many of whom were parking at the future United Senior Services facility across the street. The USS construction project at the former Eagles property began construction this month.

“We have an immediate problem with parking to make sure patients can get in close,” Eisentrager said.

The downtown surgical hospital had been a brownfield site before it was redeveloped and opened in June of 2009.

In 2012, Ohio Valley opened a $5 million medical office building, 140 W. Main St., which houses imaging, physical therapy and pre-admission testing. The hospital also operates an administrative building at 72 and 74 W. Main St.

Three other downtown health care facilities have opened in recent years: the $275 million Springfield Regional Medical Center, the $10 million Mental Health Services facility and the $10 million Springfield Regional Cancer Center.

The Robertson building began its initial construction in 1917 and was built in three parts. Robertson Incorporated took possession of the property a year later and used it as a manufacturing facility for the Robertson Can Co., which closed in the mid-1990s, shortly before Zeus purchased the building.

It housed several small businesses over the years and was discussed as a candidate for reuse over the years, including converting the building into loft apartments. However, over the last 20 years, it’s been too costly to make those upgrades, Eisentrager said.

“It’s pretty dilapidated,” he said.

The ground at the Robertson building is contiguous with the surgical hospital’s main campus, so it makes sense from a development strategy, said Springfield Assistant City Manager and Director of Economic Development Tom Franzen.

“It’s certainly good for downtown,” Franzen said. “They’re bringing lots of activity, and I think that’s feeding interest in some of the other amenities downtown. I think it’s very positive.”

Franzen has heard some residents are disappointed that a private investment opportunity never presented itself to renovate the building years ago.

“Most people realize, unfortunately, the building has just deteriorated at such a rate that it’s obvious it’s certainly past its prime,” Franzen said. “The redevelopment cost associated with that kind of endeavor is just not practical.”

The demolition at the Robertson Building is unfortunate, said Springfield Landmarks Commission chair Becky Krieger.

“It’s a fixture in downtown Springfield,” Krieger said. “We’re sad to see it coming down.”

The Landmarks Commission is working proactively to protect buildings in the downtown by placing them on the historic register, Krieger said.

“We’re going to focus on moving forward and see if we can make some changes,” Krieger said.

The hospital has archived some of the signage in the building and also took photos of the building before demolition work began. It is hoping to honor the building somewhere inside its current facilities.

“We want to memorialize it as much as we can,” Eisentrager said. “In downtown, if a building does need to go down, it’s always nice to recognize the history.”

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