PETER CONRADI/Bullet News
A proposed new hospital for the region’s southern tier can be built on donated land at the corner of Biggar and Montrose roads.
The 30-acre parcel is owned by Toronto developer John Grassl, who made the gift after three months of discussions with Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati and other city hall officials. Diodati made the announcement Friday at the Americana conference centre during his annual State of the City address.
“We identified them as one of the landowners in the area designated for the new hospital,” Diodati said. “We talked to a lot of them. We asked them if they were interested in participating in the process. All of them were willing to sell, but John is the only one who came back to us with the idea of a donation.”
Diodati said he first met Grassl in November and they concluded the arrangements in January.
“For him it was about the legacy,” Diodati said. “This will be a centre of excellence for women and children as well as being a general hospital for Niagara south. We’ll be taking five old sites and making one high-tech, modern, updated centre of excellence.”
Diodati said the Grassl family has had considerable land holdings in and around Niagara Falls for more than 25 years. Diodati didn’t know the value of the land, but said it would be in the millions. It is located directly across the road from the Arpad Hungarian Hall.
Diodati said the land is already serviced with sewers and electricity. The city spent about $12 million on that infrastructure a number of years ago, recognizing the area as one of future growth. He said something like a hospital will spur residential and commercial investment.
The mayor hopes securing the land will be a catalyst for getting the hospital project moving. He is worried delays of any kind will give the province an excuse to move plans to the backburner, but having this kind of kick-start will make it harder for Queen’s Park to throw up roadblocks, the mayor believes. He might still have quite a battle ahead of him.
Health Minister Deb Matthews in a statement to Bullet News Friday night tried to pull the discussion back to NHS governance – which is precisely what Premier Kathleen Wynne did a few weeks ago when asked about the topic. Both are downplaying the idea of a new hospital for the time being.
“I know Dr. Kevin Smith is working on getting new governance in place for the Niagara Health System and a lively discussion about the future of health care continues to take place in South Niagara,” Matthews said. “It’s great to see members of the community getting engaged in the future of health care.
“There are many more steps that need to be taken, at the community, hospital and LHIN-level, before any decision would be made on a capital project such as this.”
Niagara has been bogged down in endless debates about the future direction for the delivery of acute-care hospital services. That’s been true both within medical circles, as well as withing the community at large.
The 2008 hospital improvement plan, which would have seen major services grouped together at various existing sites across the region ran into stiff opposition, particularly in Fort Erie and Niagara Falls where emergency departments were to be replaced by urgent care centres and operating rooms closed.
Niagara Falls and Welland have also complained about a loss of services at local hospitals once the new St. Catharines hospital opens in two weeks. A lack of public confidence in the NHS led Health Minister Deb Matthews to kick out the local board and appoint Kevin Smith as temporary supervisor in late August 2011.
Smith then recommended to Matthews that a new, state-of-the-art Niagara south hospital replace existing facilities in Niagara Falls, Welland, Port Colborne and Fort Erie.
Smith asked the mayors of those communities, plus Wainfleet and Pelham, to recommend a potential site for a new hospital. The mayors unanimously selected two locations – one in Welland and the other in Niagara Falls. In Smith’s final report, he recommended the Niagara Falls site near the corner of Lyons Creek Road and the QEW over a Welland location.
Diodati and Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin have been the biggest boosters of a Niagara Falls site, believing its location is best suited to serve the needs of south Niagara. The site also has the support of Niagara Emergency Medical Services. Niagara EMS is responsible for regional paramedics and land-ambulance response.
The Niagara Falls site has since been criticized by the mayors of Welland, Port Colborne and Wainfleet, who seem to have second thoughts now that Welland has been ruled out. Welland is petitioning Queen’s Park to re-think the project.
St. Catharines cut the ribbon on its new hospital and regional cancer and cardiac centres just Thursday. The new building sits on a 40-acre parcel of land in the city’s west end that was purchased by the NHS from the Hunt family.
Diodati said with a gift of land, all the “stars are aligning” with this latest effort.
“The sky is the limit for that area of the city now,” he said. “We already have approval for the construction of 4,500 homes out there. It will help Niagara Square; it’s central, or will be central when you consider where Niagara Falls is growing, and it’s inside the urban boundary. Fort Erie is on board with this, it’s 10 minutes away from Welland.
“And then we have the land donated free. It makes it so much easier to get the ball rolling. I don’t see how they province can not go forward. It’s an offer they can’t refuse. They have to spend money on facilities down here; here is another reason for them to build a new one.”
Niagara Falls has long been accused of being divisive and fractured when it comes to health care, but Diodati brought his entire council onto the stage near the conclusion of his speech for the hospital announcement.
More than 350 attended the event hosted by the Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce. The audience included all Niagara Falls regional councillors, Niagara Regional Chairman Garry Burroughs, Niagara Parks Commission Chairwoman Janice Thomson, St. Catharines Mayor Brian McMullan, Niagara College president Dan Patterson, Niagara Parks Police Chief Doug Kane and Niagara Regional Police Chief Jeffrey McGuire.
Dodati said he didn’t tell many people about the Grassl offer in advance. His council was advised only this week.
The Grassls were not in attendance Friday, but John Grassl sent a short video that was played.
“The Grassl family is proud of its role to bring advanced health care to Niagara,” he said. “The Grassl family stands ready to assist in any way they can.”