Guideline B May Bring Down McAuley

May 8, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — An official, yet somewhat informal, meeting between Saint Mary’s Mercy Medical Center and the city’s Historic Preservation Commission last week may have paved the way for the demolition of the McAuley Building and cleared the path for the construction of the Richard J. Lacks Sr. Cancer Center.

A relaxed give-and-take replaced the combative tension of the first get-together the two sides had a few years ago, when the hospital initially approached commissioners about razing the 91-year-old building at Cherry and Lafayette SE. That meeting took place before the Lacks family made a $10 million pledge for a comprehensive cancer center on the hospital’s campus, and before Saint Mary’s had a purpose for the McAuley site.

“I think a lot of us have seen your points on this,” said HPC Chairperson Jennifer Metz after commissioners heard a presentation on the cancer center and learned why Saint Mary’s is unable to incorporate the original 1909 portion of McAuley into the building design.

According to the commission’s guidelines, there are only four circumstances under which the board can allow a structure to be demolished that is located in an historic district, as McAuley is. Metz pointed out that Guideline B held the most promise for that to happen.

That standard allows for a building to be removed if it is a deterrent to a project that provides more value to the community. The theory is that an active cancer center would be worth more to the city and the Heritage Hill Historic District than a nearly vacant McAuley.

Other commissioners agreed with Metz, and the board told Saint Mary’s officials to provide them with the basic information on the cancer center construction and to file a formal application to raze McAuley. Commissioners felt they could issue an advisory opinion by early next month.

“I’m confident that we can act on it, probably at the next meeting,” said Metz. “We will have to work out the details of a new building.”

The Richard J. Lacks Cancer Center is a $42 million project. Saint Mary’s President and CEO Phil McCorkle said that $30 million will pay for the building’s construction, $7 million will be used to buy furnishings and $5 million will go into an endowment. McCorkle also said that the hospital had raised $15.3 million. Saint Mary’s needs to raise $20 million in order to collect the $10 million gift from the Lack’s family.

The capital campaign has raised most of its money from individuals, corporations and foundations, and will shift its focus to the hospital’s physicians, boards and employees in an effort to raise $2 million. Saint Mary’s also hopes to collect another $1 million in donations from the general public.

McCorkle told commissioners that the hospital couldn’t begin construction until it meets its fundraising goal and gets state approval for the cancer center. He said he expects to have the center’s Certificate of Need from the state by June.

The cancer center will have 42 beds, a clinic, radiation and medical oncology departments and a surgical unit on the third floor.

“This is not just Saint Mary’s building,” said McCorkle. “It belongs to West Michigan.”

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