Health First Inc.’s $508 million plan to build a new hospital and “wellness village” off State Road 520 on Merritt Island took a big step forward this week.
The Brevard County Commission voted 3-0 on Tuesday, July 19th, to approve a required zoning change and a series of waivers for the project. Commission Chair Kristine Zonka abstained from the vote because she is employed as a certified family nurse practitioner with Health First Medical Group.
The County Commission approval puts Health First on track to break ground on construction of the project in early 2023 and to open the massive facility in 2025.
The planned seven-story, 120-bed hospital on the site would replace the current six-story, 150-bed Cape Canaveral Hospital on State Road 520 in Cocoa Beach, which would close when the new hospital opens. All 120 rooms in the new hospital would be private.
Health First held a community meeting with local residents on April 25 to detail its plans. It received unanimous approval for its zoning change and waivers from the Merritt Island Redevelopment Agency on April 28, then from the Brevard County Planning and Zoning Board on May 9.
The project also will include various medical offices, an education center, retail and restaurant space, a spa, a fitness center, a child day care center and other facilities, as well as a parking garage. It will be built on a 15-acre site across State Road 520 from Merritt Square Mall, and will include what Health First describes as “a park-like setting” between the various buildings.
Kimberly Rezanka, an attorney representing Health First, told the county commissioners that Health First is seeking private bonding totaling $508 million for the project, and is not asking for any public financial support. About 1,000 people will work at the Merritt Island complex.
Rezanka termed it a “transformational project. It is an amazing project.”
During County Commission public comment on the item on Tuesday, MIRA Chairman Marcus Herman called Health First’s project “a very exciting plan” that is “simply amazing” and will be “a game-changer for the area.” Herman said Health First has worked with MIRA and community residents to address various concerns about the project, such as those related to traffic, noise, drainage, parking and public transportation.
In her public comment, Cocoa Beach resident Mary Jane Nail said she is glad to see that Health First is building a facility that’s going to be very beneficial to the public. Brevard County is devoid of wellness education, promotion and living.
“So I’m delighted, delighted to see that they’re going in that direction,” Nail said.
Separately, Health First also is planning to build wellness villages in Melbourne and Palm Bay.
In a statement issued after the vote, Health First said “The Merritt Island campus will showcase Health First’s transition from an era focused on sick care to an era of providing healing-well and living-well services.”
Matthew Gerrell, Health First’s chief executive officer for retail services, said Health First’s planned Merritt Island complex is designed with the consumer in mind, providing our community what they want, when they want it — with an added bonus of being in one central location.
“We’re still at the leading edge of traditional treatment — sick care,” Gerrell said. “But here we’re offering progressive preventive care, as well as related lifestyle-supporting services — healing well and living well. This project is the next evolution and transformation of Health First, where we’re going to continue to provide healing-well services, such as hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, medical office buildings. But we’re going to add in living-well services, such as retail, healthy food options and child care. We will not have a fast-food restaurant. We will not have a doughnut shop. There will be no bar or alcohol in this village. But we will have an educational center, which will allow folks to come in and get free education on how they can make sure they keep themselves healthy. Health First is here for the community, and we want to make this community better by improving and transforming healing-well and living-well services.”
Jonathan Flyte, Health First senior vice president for facilities construction, said this concept “allows us to make a dramatic change in the character of the entire area, by providing significant new green space and important health and wellness services.”
These are the component’s of the planned Health First hospital and wellness village on Merritt Island:
• Seven-story, 320,000-square-foot hospital. The hospital pad will be elevated 13 feet to provide protection from potential storm surge, and the hospital would be designed to withstand a Category 4 hurricane.
• 21,500-square-foot central utility plant containing heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment, as well as emergency generators
• 120,000 square feet of medical offices
• 2,800-square-foot spa
• 7,500-square-foot child day care center
• 5,700-square-foot restaurant
• 19,100-square-foot education center for health and wellness education
• 2,900-square-foot coffee shop
• 2,000-square-foot market/juice bar
• 5,800 square feet of mixed-use retail space
• 700-square-foot concierge tower.
• 20,000-square-foot fitness center.
• Two stories of enclosed parking, plus surface parking lots, totaling 947 spaces. The wellness village components would be constructed above the parking garage.
• A helipad to handle helicopter landings and takeoffs for the transport of patients with serious medical conditions to the hospital’s emergency department or from there to another hospital.
The zoning change the County Commission approved involved a change of zoning classification from BU-1 (general retail commercial) and BU-2 (retail, warehousing and wholesale commercial) to planned unit development.
Most of the accompanying waivers dealt with building height and building setbacks. With the waivers, the designs allow for the clustering of the buildings and facilitate creation of green space.
“It’s an important next step for us,” Lance Skelly, Health First’s system director for public and media relations, said after the vote. It’s “a key step for us to start getting this work underway.”
Health First now will seek other regulatory approvals for the project, including from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.
Site plan approval for the project also would be needed from various Brevard County governmedepartments.
Health First said it will soon begin the construction process, fencing the site, razing the current structure and beginning the groundwork required for the new complex.
Health First is Brevard’s largest health care provider. It operates Cape Canaveral Hospital, Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne, Palm Bay Hospital and Viera Hospital. Its operations also include health insurance plans, a multispecialty medical group, and outpatient and wellness services. The company has about 9,000 employees.
In a separate action, the County Commission voted 3-0, with Zonka abstaining, to ask county staff to begin the process that could lead to removing the Health First wellness village site from the Merritt Island Redevelopment Agency district. The proposal was introduced by County Commissioner John Tobia.
If the wellness village site stays within the MIRA district, county property tax revenue generated by the complex would be available for use by MIRA for its projects. If the wellness village is removed from the MIRA district, this tax revenue would be available for the county’s general fund.
Tobia said he believes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year would be at stake. Although the new hospital would be tax-exempt, other phases of the project — such as its retail components and parking facilities — would not be tax-exempt.
Tobia said he is exploring this change in the district boundaries in part because he has issues with how MIRA spends its money, including his contention that the agency does not do enough to attract more affordable housing to the area.
Tobia cited a $20,788 “Welcome to Merritt Island” sign MIRA purchased as an example of misplaced priorities. He said his proposal’s goal is “stopping MIRA from getting more money,” and potentially directing more county property tax money into affordable housing programs.
Herman and MIRA board member Jack Ratterman both spoke during public comment on this item in defense of MIRA’s efforts to improve the area and in opposition of Tobia’s proposal.
Before any change in the MIRA district boundaries could take place, the County Commission would need to have another vote to approve the change.
Source: Florida TodayTags: ambulatory care, brevard county wellness village, community healthcare services, florida mixed-use medical facility project, health first, merritt island hospital construction, mira district boundary, mobs, property site redevelopment, wellness centers, zoning change