Despite two years of planning, Naples Community Hospital has yet to receive the green light from the city of Naples to start construction on its new heart and stroke institute.
The proposed five-story Schulze Center will be built at the current site of the Telford Education Center, south of Downtown Baker Hospital. Last month, NCH petitioned the city’s Planning Advisory Board for a rezoning of the property to public service and conditional-use approval, allowing the building to exceed the city’s maximum height allowance of three stories.
The board elected to continue the discussion at its Dec. 13 meeting, citing concerns including parking, signage and traffic flow. In response to the delay, NCH officials expressed frustration with the process.
“The planning board had some questions that we’ve tried to clarify, and now we feel like we’ve given all the information,” NCH President and CEO Paul Hiltz said. “We’ve been working on this for almost two years now. We feel that it’s time to vote on this project, because then we can get started on this project in early January.”
NCH hosted a public meeting at its Garden of Hope and Courage on Nov. 29 to provide surrounding neighbors a forum to express their concerns and gather further support. Mark Shannon, senior project manager at Fort Myers-based architecture firm Studio+, presented changes to the proposal since the last planning board meeting.
Some of the changes include bringing warmer colors to the entrance and further details on stormwater management. Shannon said construction will begin at the northwest corner of the site so storm chambers can be installed appropriately.
“We’ll be able to maintain the Telford building, all of its parking and all of the southwest corner surface parking during that process,” Shannon said.
Once that is finished, the southwest corner will be closed off to build the parking garage while the northwest corner is utilized for parking. Then, the major construction of removing the Telford building will begin.
Carolyn Tieger lives on Fourth Avenue North in a home abutting the NCH Regional Cancer Institute. With more than half of the city’s population age 65 and older, she said the project will bring great benefit to the community.
“In my wildest imagination, I wouldn’t have thought that this community would actually want to stop or slow down a project like this. I think it’s going to be incredibly beneficial,” Tieger said. “Many of us are at a point in our lives where heart disease is so prevalent, a heart attack can happen to anybody at any minute.”
Dr. Robert Cubeddu was recruited by NCH in 2021 from Cleveland Clinic Florida, where he was chairman of cardiology. He said it’s important the project isn’t further delayed.
“I think frustration is brewing and growing by the minute, because it’s been two and a half years, and we don’t have a clear signal yet,” Cubeddu said. “It doesn’t feel right.”
Hiltz said the construction of the institute is important in recruiting and retaining medical talent, who aspire to practice medicine at a world-class facility.
William Jack said it’s inappropriate for the hospital to build higher than the city allows. He is concerned the project could encourage other developers to build higher than the maximum three stories.
“Go for it, get your architect to design a world-class facility in one place. Just don’t make it exceed your charter height,” Jack said. “Don’t be the precedent setter.”
In addition to one more public meeting Dec. 7, NCH doctors will host a white coat rally Dec. 12 to voice their support for the project.
“This is not just the community asking for it, I think our staff and our team locally is excited about this project,” Cubeddu said. “They understand the need for it, because they’re in the trenches every day and they know what it takes to take good care of patients. For them it’s equally important to be able to work under an infrastructure that promotes high quality care and promotes the best level of patient experience possible.”
The next Planning Advisory Board meeting will be at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 13 at the City Council chambers.