Gulf Shores buys Sacred Heart building with eye towards expanding medical services
Hwy. 59 Bridge near Bayou Village expected to be finished in three weeks; Hurricane Nate beach damage will be assessed
By John Mullen
The City of Gulf Shores paid $2.9 million for a building formerly owned by the Sacred Heart hospital system with an ambitious eye toward increasing medical services.
“The building was originally built by Sacred Heart and a developer of theirs back in 2007,” Economic Development Coordinator Blake Phelps said. “It’s sat vacant for a few years now. It is about a 42,000 square foot facility and about half of that is built out into a medical office building and general practice suites. The other half of it is grayed in.”
Sacred Heart had the facility at a cost of $15 million. It is located behind the Microtel Inn near Jack Edwards National Airport. City officials say they hope to attract doctor’s offices as well as expanding healthcare options for the south Baldwin area.
Also, during the council work session of Feb. 20, the council considered a $4 million beach restoration to fix damage left by Hurricane Nate in October and heard a report from Public Works Director Mark Acreman on ongoing and upcoming road projects around the city.
“We’ve spent a lot of time trying to decide how we can improve medical facilities in our city,” Mayor Robert Craft said. “We’ve concluded buying that facility for that amount of money and then negotiating with health care providers to try and make the best fit for our community is the right thing for us to do. We’re going to move this forward rather than sit back and wait and hope for something else to happen.”
Councilman Jason Dyken, who also sits on the city’s Finance Committee, said that group has put a lot of study into the building including time searching for healthcare providers to occupy the facility.
“I want everybody to know this expenditure of funds seems like a great deal but it is not something we have taken lightly,” Dyken said. “This isn’t just a blind writing the check for the building and hoping something happens. We have had legitimate conversations with legitimate providers to really improve health care in the community.”
Phelps said Sacred Heart had big plans for the building but failed to win approval from the state to add higher level care at the facility.
“Sacred Heart did operate several physician suites in the building for several years with family practice, general practice and other specialties that did not require approval of a Certificate of Need,” Phelps said. “The remaining portions of the facility were designed to be an Urgent Care, Diagnostic Center and Ambulatory Surgery Center. The surgery center required Sacred Heart to apply for a Certificate of Need which was ultimately denied.”
The building ultimately went into foreclosure. It was first offered for sale at $6.5 million but taken off the market. Recently it went back on the market with a $3.5 million asking price.
Craft said talks continue with several medical providers to hopefully expand into this building with new services.
“We can’t fix the roads that’ll improve access to healthcare providers in Foley, so we’re working to bring more healthcare here,” Craft said. “We’ve been in deep conversations with the South Baldwin Healthcare Authority, which is the owner of the beds and the facility in Foley. They’re under contract with Community Health Systems, a hospital operator we’ve also been talking to along with some others that are interested in potentially helping us with that site.
“We believe we’ve got a good path forward with this building to dramatically improve the healthcare options for our community.”
The first order of business will be for the city to hire Olsen and Associates for $43,000 to survey the beaches to determine how much of them were swept away in Hurricane Nate.
“The city fared really well but one of the areas where we did take substantial damage was some substantial loss of our engineered beach system,” Acreman said. “The preliminary damage assessment was about $4 million.”
The city will have to initially put up the money for the survey and restoration but would be reimbursed for 87.5 percent of those costs from FEMA and AEMA, the federal and state emergency management agencies, Acreman said.
Normally the city does an annual survey of the engineered beach each May prior to hurricane season and Acreman said there is already $50,000 budgeted for that project.
“We feel like we can use the money already budgeted for the survey work that would have occurred in May and do it now,” Acreman said. “We can supply that information to FEMA and it will actually document our beaches prior to hurricane season.”
Acreman said the survey will be done sometime in March but the actual restoration probably won’t start until 2019 due to the lengthy permitting process.
Acreman said the growth of the offseason on Pleasure Island is making it harder and harder to complete road projects during the daytime.
“What we’ve learned is our offseason is not an offseason,” Craft said. “The traffic when we’ve normally done repairs this time of the year has not worked.”
Several traffic-signal projects are already scheduled or underway for night work and others are going to likely be done overnight as well.
“I don’t see us ever being able to do any a major work on a state highway during the day anymore no matter what time of year it is,” Acreman said. “I think all work on state highways henceforth will have to be at night time.”
One of those areas is the intersection of County Road 6 and Alabama 59 where several improvements have been made. All that’s left, Acreman said, is the final striping and new traffic signals. Those signals will go in in early June and be installed at night.
Also, work at night will continue on beach road traffic signals through September. The median work continues there and is moving to the east side of Alabama 182. Acreman said the last part left on the west side of beach road is near the Alvin’s Island and some reworking of that area is expected in the next few weeks.
“Landscape crews are there now working and we’ll finish all the heavy construction by May 1,” Acreman said.
The western side of the bridge near Bayou Village on Alabama 59 is expected to be finished in three weeks, Acreman said. This project has caused several daily backups on Alabama 59 especially for southbound traffic.
“The deck panels which we’ll install next week are all prefab,” Acreman said. “Everything from this point is going to be prefab so it’s going to go really quick.”
The widening of Alabama 59 to allow for more left-turn space into Waterville is expected to begin about March 15, Acreman said, and is expected to be done by May 1.
After spring break, Acreman said, the decking on the Windmill Ridge bridge will be replaced it what is expected to take about three days.
A complete overlay of pavement of the Alabama 182 four-lane in Gulf Shores will start after Labor Day. The portion from West Lagoon Avenue to Laguna Key will start in two weeks and take about three weeks to complete, Acreman said.
The council also discussed:
– An ordinance requiring guidelines for construction of piers and pier structures. There are currently no requirements or regulations on those in Gulf Shores.
OK’d liquor licenses for Picnic Beach which is moving to the old Ribs and Reds building, the Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie at 3859 Alabama 59 and for the Night on the Wild Side fundraiser for the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo at the airport on March 3.
Pictured: The City of Gulf Shores recently paid $2.9 million for a 55,000 square foot two-story medical office building on approximately four acres at 3620 Gulf Shores Pkwy. The site contains 42,818 square feet of rentable area. Sacred Heart Health System has leased space in the building since 2008. Their leases expire in 2018.