HealthPartners’ plans for a new, four-story neurosciences center along a rebuilt stretch of Interstate 35E is the centerpiece of a strategy to create a “corridor of care” stretching from downtown St. Paul to the city’s East Side, company officials said this week.

The new building’s site selection, architecture and branding are part of a broader effort to forge Regions Hospital in downtown and two existing specialty clinics along Phalen Boulevard on the East Side into a kind of medical alley catering to HealthPartners’ patients and their families.

The 130,000-square-foot facility will concentrate the provider’s services for stroke, spine care, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, brain and spine tumors together into what will be the biggest free-standing neurological center in the Upper Midwest. It also will help accomplish a major facilities planning goal, said Denis McCarren, HealthPartners’ director of neurosciences.

“It’s not just about this being a destination for neuroscience, it’s very much tied to a connectivity piece with our other established clinics,” he said. “I’m not really a fan of the term ‘medical alley,’ but we’ve definitely got a corridor of medical services which makes it easy for our providers, many of whom are at both Regions Hospital and in the clinics.”

The HealthPartners “corridor” has its hub at Regions, at Jackson Street and University Avenue just to the east of the State Capitol and a block from the Green Line light rail’s Robert Street station. The firm completed a $179 million expansion of the hospital in 2009, including 385,000 square feet of new construction.

The corridor then moves east along University to I-35E, where the Minnesota Department of Transportation is widening the freeway north of downtown. A key part of that effort is creating a new interchange at Cayuga Street, which has been lengthened to intersect with Phalen Boulevard.

The Phalen-Cayuga intersection in turn has been home to two HealthPartners specialty clinics, at 401 and 435 Phalen Blvd., since 2006. The neurosciences center will be just west of those at 295 Phalen, which now holds a multitenant office-warehouse building.

HealthPartners last month closed on the sale of the five-acre parcel, nestled between the freeway and the BNSF railroad tracks. The existing building currently houses a physical rehabilitation clinic, which will be relocated so that demolition of the structure can begin in March.

Kraus-Anderson Construction has been tapped as the general contractor on the project along with St. Paul’s BWBR Architects.

The site has another big plus for HealthPartners’ effort to “brand” its St. Paul corridor: The MnDOT project will realign I-35E significantly closer to the parcel, thus giving the new neurosciences center tremendous visibility from the freeway.

“We’ll be doing some unique architecture on this building because we’ve sited it so that three sides will be visible — there really won’t be a traditional front door,” said Todd Young, HealthPartners’ director of facilities and space planning. “We’re also designing it for the potential to go two stories higher.”

The other big winner is the St. Paul Port Authority, which spearheaded the long effort to get Phalen Boulevard constructed and use it as a catalyst for its Westminster Junction and Williams Hill business parks. HealthPartners’ two existing clinics as well as a Gillette Children’s Hospital clinic are part of Westminster Junction.

Port Authority President Louis Jambois said the new neurosciences building will add to an emerging health services “business cluster” in St. Paul.

“These kinds of developments stimulate ancillary businesses that support the medical industry,” he said. “For instance, Hospital Linens, which relocated to the old Hamm’s Brewery, is there not just because they thought it was a great site, but because they are a support business to the health care community.”

Some cities have put a tremendous amount of effort into trying to artificially generate such business clusters, but in St. Paul, he said, it’s happening “organically.”

“It’s an exciting development for the Port Authority, the city and the east metro area.”

 

Don Jacobson is a freelance writer in St. Paul and former editor of the Minnesota Real Estate Journal.