FORT MYERS — The economic effect of a $250 million hospital project to Southwest Florida is expected to be tremendous, but the Lee Memorial Healthcare System wants a more specific figure.
"We don't want to speculate. We want to know what it will be," said Sally Jackson, system director of government and community relations for Lee Memorial. "You don't see many $250 million projects in this community."
Lee Memorial has retained Gary Jackson, director of the Regional Economic Research Institute at FGCU's College of Medicine, for an economic analysis that includes the construction itself but also several years out to project new jobs and services.
FGCU's Jackson said he expects to have the analysis completed by fall for a report and presentation to the hospital board.
In mid-August, the Lee Memorial board approved a $12 million contract with a Tampa architectural firm, Harvard Jolly, to prepare the final architectural plans for the five-story children's tower that will be built adjacent to HealthPark Medical Center in south Fort Myers.
Site work and construction, targeted to begin in 2013, will entail adding 300,000 square feet in a five-story children's tower with 128 beds and pediatric emergency room. Currently, the children's hospital inside HealthPark has 98 beds and admits more than 5,000 patients and handles 40,000 outpatient visits a year. The new tower will have the capacity to go to 160 beds and aims to meet population growth for 10 years.
At HealthPark, about 47,000 square feet of space will be renovated to convert the current pediatric space for use for adult care and other upgrades. Also tied into the $250 million project is an expansion of the central energy plant and more parking.
General contractors who responded to a request for proposal have been short-listed to three firms and they made presentations this past Friday to hospital officials. They will be ranked and the Lee Memorial board is scheduled to decide which company to award the contract to on Sept. 27, said Mary Briggs, hospital system spokeswoman.
The three general contractors in the running are locally based Gates Construction, Manhattan Kraft Construction which has roots in Southwest Florida, and Robins & Morton, which has a location in Orlando.
The health system's foundation has raised more than $54 million in philanthropic support for the project, aiming to raise half the cost. The remainder would come from reserves and bond financing; the plan is to break ground in 2013, Briggs said.
"You have to understand that construction of the building, while substantial in and of itself, is only part of the overall economic impact," Lee Memorial's Jackson said.
The broader impact is the expanded services for adults and children, the new job creation and the spin-off effect in later years, she said.
"He (Jackson at FGCU) will look at the impact of the first year and look at it at five years and 10 years," she said. "That way it will give the community a better understanding of the overall impact."
It's hard to say at this point how many subcontractors will be used for the site work and the construction, she said.
Jackson at FGCU did a study in 2010 of the economic impact that the entire Lee Memorial system has on the region. The study found Lee Memorial employed 7,660 people with compensation at $578 million.
In addition, there was labor income of $557 million and direct expenditures by the hospital system of $988 million.
The direct expenditures create additional employment and income due to business-to-business interaction and the increase in household income and spending. All of that adds the equivalent of 13,639 more jobs and $984 million in income, according to the analysis. The overall impact is another $1.6 million in expenditures.
For every 100 jobs created by Lee Memorial, another 78 jobs are created within the county, according to the analysis.
"The value added, which is primarily a measure of added wage, salary, rent, dividends, interest, and profit income, shows that the overall economic impact for Lee County of almost $1 billion for the year ending Sept. 30, 2009," according to the study.
Almost one in seven people employed in Lee are directly employed in health care.
"It is arguably the most important project to come along since FGCU," Richard Akin, chairman of the Lee Memorial board, said of the impact of the new children's hospital over time.
Besides new jobs and the ability to meet capacity demands for adults and children, the community over time will see new pediatric specialty services that now are available only at children's hospitals in Miami and St. Petersburg.
The children's hospital serves a five-county region, including Collier.
"We are the last large metro area like this not to have a hospital like this," Akin said. "It will raise the bar in quality and accessibility for all the kids in Southwest Florida. This is a game-changer. It won't unfold overnight. In the next five years, you will see a completely different environment for kids."