The first step in constructing Essentia Health's Vision Northland — an $800 million development in downtown Duluth — is slated to start Monday, Sept. 9.

The three-year project will bring a new 14-story hospital bed tower, larger surgical suites and clinic space, as well as road closures and restricted access to building entrances when construction gets underway, according to a news release from Essentia.

The development will help Essentia better serve its patients and prepare the health care system for future changes in the industry, Mark Hayward, Essentia's senior vice president of operations, said in an interview.

The hospital tower is a significant part of the project, as approximately $675 million of the project's total $800 million price tag will go toward the replacement hospital bed tower, surgery suites for St. Mary's Medical Center and clinic space. The remaining funds will be used for infrastructure and financing, according to Essentia.

Although the hospital tower will have fewer patient beds than the current hospital, it has a higher patient capacity as nearly all them are located in private rooms, Hayward said. In the current hospital, rooms with two beds often have to be limited to just one patient as there's a chance of spreading illnesses. "It's just not where we need to be," Hayward said.

Surgical rooms sizes will also expand from their current size of approximately 400 square feet to around 600 to 800 square feet, he said.

The development will also bring new technology — such as machines that help lift people, and tools that decrease the size of incisions — that Hayward said "leads to incredibly improved outcomes."

Work on the development will close several roads around the construction site. On Sept. 9, First Street from Fourth Avenue East to Seventh Avenue East, as well as Fourth Avenue East from Superior Street to Second Street will both close.

Street, parking and construction plans for Essentia Health's Vision Northland development. (Courtesy of Essentia Health.)
Street, parking and construction plans for Essentia Health's Vision Northland development. (Courtesy of Essentia Health.)

Access to the Duluth Clinic First Street Building will be restricted, but its main entrance will stay open. People are asked to use the skywalk from the Duluth Clinic Second Street Building to access the First Street Building.

Crews will start demolition on the Amendola Building in early September, as well. After demolition is finished on the building's interior, full demolition starts on Oct. 9.

The Blue Ramp, located on East Second Street, will close on Sept. 30 in advance of the October demolition.

The Second Street Building entrance, located at 502 E. Second St., will offer free valet parking for patients with appointments. Valet parking will run 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, not including holidays.

The skywalk connecting Duluth Clinic First Street Building to the city parking ramp is also scheduled to close in early September for demolition. Pedestrians can cross Fourth Avenue East via a construction crosswalk.

Construction will continue until fall 2022, according to the press release. Next May, foundations for the new buildings are expected to be complete. Building structures will then be finished and enclosed by summer 2021. One year later, the building interiors will be done. And in fall 2022, the replacement hospital bed tower will be complete.

Crews will renovate around 120,000 square feet of existing facility space, while an additional 928,000 square feet of new space will be added.

A rendering of Essentia Health's 14-story hospital tower that's part of the Vision Northland development. (Courtesy of Essentia Health.)
A rendering of Essentia Health's 14-story hospital tower that's part of the Vision Northland development. (Courtesy of Essentia Health.)

Vision Northland will "match Essentia's facilities with how medicine is practiced in the 21st century, bringing the highest quality health care to patients."

Hayward said he hopes the development will be a catalyst for other developments in the region, such as investments in housing and new businesses.

The development comes as Essentia embarks on other developments in the area, including the Essentia Wellness Center that's set to open this fall in Hermantown and moving its fitness center to the Miller Hill Mall.

Updates on parking and street closures near Essentia can be found on its Vision Northland website.