DULUTH – The Essentia Health hospital tower that will be the city's tallest building won't open to patients until fall 2023, nearly a year later than originally planned.

The Duluth-based health system is commemorating a year since construction began on its Vision Northland project, which is now slated to cost $900 million — a $100 million increase from previous estimates.

"The longer timeline is primarily because the size of the project has grown; there's now 942,000 square feet of construction," said Essentia spokesman Louie St. George III. "Aside from the project's growth, the delay is largely attributable to additional planning, design and estimating for the expanded project."

He said only one day of construction was lost due to the pandemic.

The project, intended to consolidate and modernize Essentia's sprawling downtown Duluth campus, originally called for 928,000 square feet of new space and 120,000 square feet of renovations.

"The added square footage is largely a result of planned expansion space — one additional patient floor, which will be shelved for completion in the future, and additional outpatient care spaces," St. George said. "These additions will ensure Essentia can meet the community's needs for years to come."

The increased cost stemmed from the project's growth, St. George said. Essentia laid off 900 employees, 6% of its workforce, amid a sharp downturn in patient volumes earlier this year due to pandemic restrictions. At the time of the May announcement, Essentia said it had taken a $100 million hit because of the pandemic with more losses expected. Money for building projects is separate from operating funds.

The project is the city's largest private investment in history and will see a hospital tower rising 15 stories above E. First Street. Work on the tower's structural steel will begin later this month, and the building is scheduled to be enclosed by early 2022.

The eight-story clinic tower on Superior Street saw its highest steel beams installed in August.

Originally intended to be ready by the end of 2022, an updated timeline will see construction completed in the first quarter of 2023 and the hospital opening for patient care that fall.

"On this one-year anniversary of construction, with the first scoop of soil and every subsequent beam raised, Essentia Health envisions our future facility enhancing patient care, along with improving the health care experience of patients and staff," Dr. Robert Erickson, the lead physician for Vision Northland, said in a statement.

McGough Construction is the project manager. There has been just one minor recordable injury so far during construction, which has reached 210,000 crew hours.

About $100 million in state money is supporting the project through parking ramps and road and utility improvements.

More than $1 billion in private investment is expected to pour into Duluth's medical district over the next several years, with St. Luke's recently opening its new $37.5 million emergency room. The health system has $249 million in total plans for its campus but no timeline for the next phases.

The fate of Essentia's existing St. Mary's Medical Center remains unknown as well.