By Jim Melican, GSAC Board Member
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Many Naples residents seem to believe that the proposed NCH Heart, Vascular and Stroke Institute is a done deal, given the fact that nearly $195 million of the projected $200 million needed has already been raised from generous local benefactors for its construction downtown adjacent to the existing NCH Baker Hospital.

But in fact, the plans for the Institute are in real jeopardy.

Some two and a half years after the concept of the state-of-the-art Institute was first floated, its go-ahead approval is still bogged down at the City level. Despite all indications that an overwhelming majority of Naples residents would welcome its being built on NCH’s downtown campus, a small group of residents, have brushed off the many concessions that NCH has made, and continue to find reasons why the project should be revamped in ways that the Hospital has publicly stated that it would find unacceptable.

On Wednesday, November 8, the City’s Planning Advisory Board voted 6-1 to continue consideration of NCH’s petition until its December 13 meeting. The PAB’s stated justification for its deferral was that it needed more information, but NCH’s concern is that the request for still more data could be an endless tactic designed to frustrate it into scrapping the downtown location and pivoting to its Collier County campus on Immokalee Road.

Renderings of the NCH Heart, Vascular and Stroke Institute by Studio+

A primary issue appears to be the proposed parking garage at the southwest corner of NCH’s campus, i.e., near the corner of Sixth Street North and Second Avenue North. The protestors are contending that sufficient parking spaces already exist on NCH’s property and that a three-level parking structure is not needed; alternatively, they are contending that a surface lot could be built on the other side of the complex on property owned by NCH on the north side of Fourth Avenue North across from the emergency room. But Jonathan Kling, NCH’s chief operations officer, stated at the conclusion of the hearing that, without the additional parking, the project is a non-starter on the downtown campus.

Also, some PAB members expressed doubts as to whether the Institute really needed a five-story building to house the components of the new Institute, implying that NCH’s real objective was just an expansion of the hospital, which already has sufficient beds.

It seems evident that the next two months will be critical for the future of this project. Following the December 13 meeting of the PAB (at which its chairman has promised that a vote on whether or not to recommend to the Council that the project go forward will be taken), the next and most important hurdle will be at the City Council meeting, presently scheduled for January 18. NCH management has made it clear that, without a final decision soon, it will pursue other alternatives.

If you believe, as most do, that The NCH Heart, Vascular and Stroke Institute will be a vital community asset that should be located on the NCH campus in the center of the City please show your support with an email to the Planning Advisory board members with the following or similar message:

Dear PAB members,

The City of Naples wants and needs the NCH Heart Institute to be built downtown. Please vote on December 13 to recommend that the City Council approve it. 

Their email addresses are:

Mayor and City Council: