Senior staff writer
The final chapter of the vacated and historic St. Francis Hospital buildings and grounds in Beech Grove will be written soon with the demolition of the once-prominent medical center.
Franciscan Alliance representatives in Mishawaka and Beech Grove Mayor Dennis Buckley recently reached the conclusion that the buildings should be torn down, beginning with the removal of the skywalk over Sherman Drive.
“It’s time for the building to go; St. Francis has been a good steward, and they have done the right thing,” Buckley said Aug. 4 in front of a standing-room-only audience at City Hall. There may be a use for part of the facility, but that will be determined by the developer. “It’s the city’s desire to see the building dismantled.”
Buckley was notified a few days before the meeting that the Franciscan board had agreed to tear down the existing structures. The Alverna building would remain.
“It’s been an extremely difficult time, but it is what it is,” he said. “I’ve never backed down from a tough call. We have become friends (board members), and you would think we would be adversaries. They want to do what’s best for the city too.”
Central Indiana developer Joe Whitsett, who is developing the old Indianapolis Star & News site into apartments and townhouses, has considered using the land for up to 60 homes and an independent living center for senior citizens.
Beech Grove business owner and Indianapolis City-County Councilor Frank Mascari is hopeful that Whitsett’s plan will come to fruition. Mascari and Holy Name Pastor William M. Williams attended the meeting.
Plans to tear down the hospital surfaced after little financial interest was shown in the site. A local developer had floated an idea that the buildings could be transformed into multiple uses such as apartments, condominiums, professional offices and retail businesses. An agreement between a California company and the alliance fell through, as did plans to use part of the complex for veterans wellness and rehabilitation.
The hospital, opened in 1914 with expansions in 1931 and 1957 and an eight-story medical tower in 1970, was closed in 2012.
“I sip coffee and see that building that sits in disrepair,” Williams said. “The building has become an eyesore, which harms the morale of a city this size.” Some items in the old chapel and other areas of the hospital were blessed and must be removed and preserved, he added.
Demolition will be tedious because the buildings cannot be imploded due to potential asbestos content and containing possible environmental hazards is a concern said Buckley, who is to meet with contractors Thursday.
After the buildings are demolished, the sewer system on the site will be taken out, which benefits homes north of the property.
Buckley concluded the meeting by pointing out that 80 new businesses, including Kinetrex Engery have come into Beech Grove in the past 3 1/2 years, and ADM Milling underwent an expansion.
“When this is completed,” he said, “whatever is done with the property, this could be really big for the city.”