UPDATED: Lakeview Hospital to purchase highly visible property on Hwy. 36

Lakeview Hospital announced this week that it signed a purchase agreement for 68 acres of land at the northeast corner of the intersection of Highway 36 and Manning Avenue in Stillwater.

The hospital anticipates closing on the purchase of the highly visible site before the end of the year. The purchase price was not disclosed.

Although Lakeview president and CEO Ted Wegleitner said there are “no immediate plans — or timelines — for the property,” he said the purchase secures the hospital’s future in Stillwater, as the hospital seeks to meet future demand and establish itself as a “regional hub.”

Lakeview is buying two-thirds of the site from Crescent Development LLC, and the other one-third from Paul Bergmann, a farmer and longtime Stillwater resident whose family has owned land in the area since the 1950s. For now, Bergmann will continue farming and operating his business (Bergmann’s Greenhouses & Farm Market) on the land.

“This is exciting news for our organization,” Wegleitner said. “We’ve been part of the fabric of the community for over 135 years, and that future will continue.”

Lakeview plans to take a comprehensive look at its facilities in the coming years and determine if a new facility is needed.

“Our board has really asked us to develop a plan over the next five years,” Wegleitner said. “There has been no decision around a new campus yet, other than to secure and protect our future, because we just felt like if we waited much longer, there wouldn’t be property available on Highway 36.”

He’s not worried about purchasing the site without concrete plans.

“We think that land is pretty valuable, that it’s not a bad investment for us as we are working with our board to make this decision,” he said.

Lakeview has been in contact with the city, county and state to ensure the site is viable as a medical campus, Wegleitner said.

Bill Turnblad, Stillwater’s community development director, said the hospital has requested to meet with the city council at a June 6 council work session.

“The purpose of that meeting is to discuss with the council potential uses of that site,” Turnblad said. “And if that goes well, it gets them closer to closing on the property.”

Some type of medical campus is “certainly consistent” with the city’s comprehensive plan, Turnblad said. Under the plan, the area is guided for a research and development park, and a medical campus is called out as an example of such a use.

The idea of a medical campus was included in the comprehensive plan because Lakeview was interested in this site a decade ago, when the comprehensive plan was developed, Turnblad said.

“They’ve known for a long time that they would eventually outgrow the site they’re at, and it is completely surrounded by single family neighborhoods,” Turnblad said. “Any expansion created tension. So they’ve known for a while that they would need another site.”

The hospital expects increased demand for services as the population of the East Metro grows, and as western Wisconsin sees growth due to the completion of the new bridge over the St. Croix. In addition, Wegleitner said, the fastest-growing population group in the St. Croix Valley is seniors over age 65 — the group that uses health care most.

“We’re also looking at additional capabilities Lakeview may develop on existing and future campuses as well … to develop that idea of a regional hub hospital,” Wegleitner said. “We’re already being seen as a bit of a regional hub, and we see further developing that in the future.”

The site at Highway 36 and Manning offers exceptional access to the East Metro and western Wisconsin.

“It’s just the ideal place,” Wegleitner said. “I don’t know if we could’ve picked a better spot for the future and ensuring the future of the hospital.”

Asked what will become of the hospital’s existing West Churchill Street campus — which just completed $8 million in renovations last year — Wegleitner said he doesn’t know.

“That decision will be part of our planning process,” he said. “We have invested in our current facility as a bridge, because our facility is aging, and there were some things that we just needed to do. … We just couldn’t wait much longer. We feel we’ve done most of that work, and anything we do now will be very strategic and limited as we are considering where we go from here.”

The planning process will take into account not only Lakeview Hospital, but also Stillwater Medical Group’s clinic on Curve Crest Boulevard, which is also part of the HealthPartners system.

“If we’re to develop a future campus, it would be looking at all of our needs and determining what are the best services to be on which campus,” Wegleitner said. “That’s the work we need to do over the next five years.”

Wegleitner said as planning for the future progresses, the hospital will seek community input.

“We will have conversations with the community … and of course our board members are representative of the communities,” he said. “We’ve wanted to be good neighbors as a hospital where we are, and if we do pursue a campus [at the new site], we’ll want to be good neighbors there, as well.”

Contact Jonathan Young at jonathan.young@ecm-inc.com