Medical facility OK’d for former St. Mary’s Hospital campus

City of Knoxville, Knox County move ahead with behavioral-health, urgent-care facility next to new Safety Complex

By Eric Vreeland
City of Knoxville

It’ll be a few years before it’s designed and developed, but local officials are excited that a part of the former St. Mary’s Hospital campus will continue to be devoted to providing specialized medical treatment.

In October, Knoxville City Council — on Mayor Indya Kincannon’s recommendation — voted to approve an interlocal agreement with Knox County to turn the 25,000-square-foot former St. Mary’s Ambulatory Surgery Center at the corner of East Woodland Avenue and St. Mary Street into an urgent-care and behavioral-health facility.

This building, at 1515 St. Mary St., will be jointly owned by the city of Knoxville and Knox County, who will contract with medical service providers such as the McNabb Center.

McNabb Center CEO Jerry Vagnier said the behavioral health portion of the facility is needed.

Mr. Vagnier pointed out that psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, therapists, and others on staff would be able to offer care after hours, helping people when they need the help without requiring next-day visits or appointments.

The city of Knoxville is preserving the historic 1929 Building (left) as part of the city’s new Public Safety Complex. This 93-year-old building served as the original St. Mary’s Hospital. The Magdalen Clarke Tower at right now is the home of Lincoln Memorial University’s nursing school.

More than 8,500 people in the Knoxville metropolitan area in 2020 wound up going to a hospital emergency room for lack of another option, according to Mr. Vagnier.

Mayor Kincannon applauds the pending creation of the behavioral-health facility as well as a new North Knoxville urgent-care center, where people can get treatment for bodily injuries like sprained ankles or broken bones.

“It was important to many community neighbors and to members of the Diocese of Knoxville that St. Mary’s legacy as a care provider continue at this historic place,” Mayor Kincannon said.

“So we looked, with our partners in the community and with Knox County government, at where the need was the greatest. One resource that was in especially short supply was urgent care for people in crisis with behavioral-health issues. The city is pleased to be building capacity for this specialized care,” the mayor added. “We’re also very proud of the community unity in moving forward with this. Knox County is an enthusiastic supporter and recognizes the acute need for a facility like this.”

Tennova, the hospital company that acquired the former St. Mary’s Medical Center, deeded the mostly vacant hospital campus to the city of Knoxville for $1, and city contractor crews for more than a year have been repurposing the site for use as a Public Safety Complex. The reconstruction project is expected to be completed in late 2022.

But the 1515 St. Mary St. building remained under lease to a private company through 2049, and the company had the right to renew the lease through 2099.

In June, Knoxville City Council voted to approve a sale and ground lease termination agreement to buy out the lease for almost $1.8 million. The city and county are splitting the buyout cost.

The urgent-care facility won’t be the only reminder of St. Mary’s long legacy as an iconic hospital that faithfully served generations of families.

The stately and spectacular 1929 Building, the original marble-accented hospital building, has been carefully preserved and protected by the city and its contractors. It will be repurposed as an anchor when the north end of the former hospital campus is privately redeveloped.

And nursing education had been at the core of St. Mary’s mission since the hospital opened. So it was fitting that Lincoln Memorial University in early 2021 began offering nursing programs in Magdalen Clarke Tower, the tallest building on the site.

As the new year began, construction on the Public Safety Complex was making progress toward the late-2022 completion deadline.

Newer wings of the St. Mary’s Medical Center, including, from left, the Professional Office Building, Central Wing Annex, and the Women’s Pavilion at right, are being converted into administrative offices for the Knoxville Police and Fire departments as well as City Court, Pension System offices, and some E-911 operations.

The city is investing $57.2 million to reconstruct vacant office buildings on the former Tennova hospital site off Broadway, next to Fulton High School, to serve as a combined complex for the Knoxville Police and Fire departments, Pension System, and City Court operations.

The city is converting the vacated Professional Office Building, Central Wing Annex, and Women’s Pavilion into new office space to house the city’s police and fire administration, City Court, Pension System, and some E-911 operations. Work on renovation of the vacated hospital site hit its 100th week in January.

Separate from repurposing five buildings on the former St. Mary’s Hospital site, the city has invested $6.5 million to clear the northern end of the former hospital campus and raze the obsolete buildings there so that the tract is ready for reuse as part of future private redevelopment.

That redevelopment will include the historic 1929 Building — the original St. Mary’s hospital building, which the city and its contractors have preserved and safeguarded.

In 2021, Lincoln Memorial University began offering nursing programs in the Magdalen Clarke Tower on the campus. LMU also plans to launch a dental school here.

The Knoxville Police Department and City Court operations will be housed in the eight-story Professional Office Building on the site.

The Central Wing Annex will house police department and Pension System operations.

And the former St. Mary’s Women’s Pavilion will house the Knoxville Fire Department’s administration operations.

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