After 120 years in downtown Vancouver, St. Paul's Hospital is to be demolished and rebuilt three kilometres east as a new $1-billion health centre that planners hope will be ready within seven years.
The scenario announced Monday will see a new St. Paul's built on a 7.5-hectare site at Station Street near the city's current bus and train station and just south of the Downtown Eastside, Chinatown and Strathcona neighbourhoods.
There has long been talk about a St. Paul's move, but proceeding with the plan will open massive development options on the hospital's current 2.6-hectare location on Burrard Street, and also dramatically change the area around the new site, injecting hundreds of workers, patients and others into a now-desolate section.
But there's likely to be considerable debate ahead about maintaining health-care services for the populous West End, home to about 45,000 people in a 204-hectare area that comprises about 35 per cent of downtown.
St. Paul's – known as a leader in HIV/AIDS research – is seen as a key neighbourhood institution, with thousands of jobs at both the hospital and surrounding buildings that are linked to the medical-services sector.
The fate of St. Paul's could also end up as a major Vancouver issue in the 2017 provincial election.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said he was pleased to see such a major investment in health care in Vancouver, but is uneasy about the impact.
"I am concerned about the potential loss of primary care in the West End, given the large population and high percentage of seniors," he said in a statement, adding: "I fully expect that the community will make their opinions known to the province about what services they want to remain on Burrard Street."
Providence Health Care, which operates St. Paul's, said it had secured $500-million from the B.C. government and is committed to raising another $500-million, largely by leveraging the current site and seeking philanthropic support. Officials said it was smarter to move to a new home than to spend $80-million for the seismic upgrades required for the current St. Paul's.
The land for the new St. Paul's is owned by the non-profit Esperanza Society, which bought it for St. Paul's redevelopment about a decade ago. "We are going to hit the ground running with this announcement and this plan," said Geoff Plant, a former B.C. attorney general who is chair of the Providence board.
"Over the years, we have been on several planning paths for St. Paul's. The good news is we learned from all of them."
A key step ahead is a business plan, to be written over the next year, to finalize ideas for the health-care facilities at the new hospital. Project lead Neil MacConnell told a packed news conference the current St. Paul's land was worth about $360-million, but there have been no specific decisions on how to sell it. Mr. MacConnell said Providence is open to "a conversation" with residents of the West End about leaving a facility of some kind behind to meet their health-care needs.
In Victoria, Health Minister Terry Lake said Station Street is the future of St. Paul's. "Obviously there has been a lot of work done by Providence Health and the Ministry of Health … and we've all come to the conclusion that this is the right location," he told reporters.
But Spencer Chandra Herbert of the B.C. NDP said on Twitter that downtown Vancouver needs an emergency room, especially given the possibility of an earthquake that might block exits from downtown. He noted that St. Paul's proved its worth during the Stanley Cup riots.
At the news conference, St. Paul's emergency department head Dan Kalla noted that the current St. Paul's had been "jury-rigged" into a configuration where the radiology department is located the equivalent of two city blocks away from the ER. "There's no renovation that will address that incongruity," Dr. Kalla said.
With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria