DULUTH – Essentia Health is planning an outpatient surgery center inside the former Sears store at Duluth's Miller Hill Mall, where the health system has already become a major anchor.

"The new day surgery center will serve the growing demand by patients who want to use outpatient services and recover at home," Dan Cebelinski, Essentia's director of facilities, wrote in a letter to the city's planning commission last week. "The new facility also reflects the growing number of surgeries and other procedures that can be done safely without hospitalization."

Construction is expected to start this spring, and the 32,000-square-foot center could open by spring 2022. A laboratory and pharmacy are part of the plans that altogether use just 40% of the sprawling Sears space.

"Plans are being considered for the rest of the building," Cebelinski wrote.

The Duluth-based health system purchased the Sears property a year ago but did not share plans for the site at the time. Essentia boasts the largest share of square footage in the mall, which opened in 1973.

In 2019, Essentia purchased and moved into the former Younkers store at Miller Hill Mall, which now hosts the Center for Personal Fitness, the Therapy & Performance Center and the Polinsky Medical Rehabilitation Center at the former department store.

The health system has been offering COVID-19 tests at the Sears site since July.

The Duluth Planning Commission will take up the surgery-center proposal at its Feb. 9 meeting.

Outpatient surgery can be less costly and more flexible than the same procedures performed in hospitals and has been growing in numbers nationwide, according to the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association trade group. A specialty surgery center is in the works for the UnitedHealth Group campus in Duluth.

Essentia Health, which has locations across Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota, is in the midst of building a $900 million campus in downtown Duluth.

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496