CLEARWATER — Morton Plant Hospital wants to build a $200 million, four-story patient and surgical tower filled with operating rooms, private patient rooms and clinics.
When completed sometime in 2016, the 687-bed hospital at 300 Pinellas Ave., which first opened its doors in 1916, would have a new eastern entrance. It also would have state-of-the-art operating rooms where patients could avoid the elevator by staying in rooms on the same floor, said spokeswoman Beth Hardy.
The operating rooms are currently in the basement, which can present a logistical challenge, she said.
A new orthopedics unit with 52 private rooms and a reorganized women's services area on a single floor would also be features of the new 200,000-square-foot building on the eastern side of the hospital.
Preliminary construction for the expansion and renovation has already begun, with crews digging up utility lines, Hardy said.
The question for hospital officials and city planners is how to fit the massive project within city planning codes.
The city doesn't have a "master plan" ordinance that would provide a guideline for the hospital's growth. That presents a conundrum for the hospital, which wants a single template for approval.
A series of development agreements, a typical government tool for approving large-scale construction projects, would be a "pretty blunt instrument" for what the hospital wants to do, said Ed Armstrong, an attorney representing Morton Plant.
City planning director Michael Delk said the new tower can be approved by the city, but an ordinance that would codify future growth might be more difficult to get done quickly.
"We're trying to get there under the current regulatory environment," Delk said.
After an initial meeting between hospital officials and city planning staff earlier this month, both sides are regrouping, said Armstrong. The hospital plans to contact senior planners and schedule another meeting in the next few weeks, he said. Both sides say they're optimistic a deal can be reached.
"What we're wanting to capture is future growth in a new master plan. It's a matter of process, not problems or issues," Delk said.
Armstrong said a piecemeal approach isn't what the hospital wants. "We're hoping to do better than that," he said.
When it's all ironed out, the hospital will be vastly improved by the new construction, Hardy said.
"It will be transformational for our campus," she said, adding that the project "is to accommodate the modern needs of health care — some of it for what's happening right now, some of it what we anticipate will happen in the future."
Charlie Frago can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.