DULUTH – The $800 million project to re-imagine the downtown Essentia Health campus — Duluth's largest ever private investment — starts "in earnest" in September, the health system said Wednesday.

Roads will close, clinic access will be limited and demolition will begin Sept. 9 as Essentia Health ramps up its "Vision Northland" project.

The investment, intended to modernize and consolidate the sprawling Essentia campus, will see a new hospital bed tower and surgery suites rising above the eastern edge of downtown by the end of 2022. In all, there will be 928,000 square feet of new space and 120,000 square feet of renovations.

"It will bring a state-of-the-art facility to complement the state-of-the-art care we deliver," said Mark Hayward, Essentia Health's senior vice president of operations.

With some parts of the hospital built more than a century ago and others scattered across several blocks, Hayward said the hospital tower will reflect how patients and staff expect modern health care to be delivered — including all private rooms.

"With new technology, new staffing models and the way health care has evolved, we have outdated facilities," he said. "We're excited to get to the next phase and see visible progress."

Nearby St. Luke's also has more than $249 million in campus investments planned over the next several years. Work on a new emergency department and parking garage with a helipad is underway.

Future phases of that project will include doubling the size of one of the buildings and adding a hospital tower.

"This plan is an investment in our patients' care and in the health and economic vitality of our community, which will serve people in our region for many years," said Mike Boeselager, St. Luke's vice president of support services. "Our intent is that with careful planning the entire campus redevelopment project will be completed within the next five to seven years."

The state is kicking in about $98 million to shore up public infrastructure surrounding the projects, including new parking ramps. Earlier this week, the Duluth City Council approved the first $5 million in state money. The city is required to contribute $10 million toward utility improvements.

City leaders hope more investment in commercial, residential or light industrial projects will follow the medical district upgrades.

"We have had significant interest from developers who want to know more about what might be available there," Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said. "It frees up a lot of currently programmed land and buildings. And so that's our challenge and opportunity to think through."

The Destination Medical Center in Rochester, anchored by Mayo Clinic, could provide a road map.

"We have been very intentional about understanding what has worked well in Rochester and the DMC and what we need to do to make this into a Duluth model," Larson said. "I believe we are being much more intentional about housing."

The project will require several transportation adjustments. Starting Sept. 9, First Street will close between Fourth and Seventh Avenues East. Fourth Avenue East will also close from Superior to Second Streets as it is enveloped by the construction site.

Brooks Johnson • 612-673-4229