What Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas calls the largest economic development engine in decades has moved to the assembly line.
Ground was broken Wednesday evening for the new 225-private room Porter hospital at the northwest corner of Ind. 49 and U.S. 6.
Costas said he believes the $225 million project eventually will help bring the area out of the current recession and provide growth opportunities for neighboring communities, including his own, which is home to the existing hospital.
While a small group of officials carried out the obligatory ground-turning ceremony, the real work already is under way at the undeveloped site, which is surrounded by soybean fields and tree groves.
Large pieces of earth-moving equipment were hard at work as the formally attired guests arrived Wednesday and filed into a large white tent. Air conditioners struggled to keep up as guests were treated to a jazz band, gourmet food and drinks.
With a drumroll, hospital CEO Jonathan Nalli welcomed the guests and said the groundbreaking was 3 1/2 years in the making.
“Will this be a reality?” he said he often was asked. “Are we actually going to build?”
“The answer has always been yes,” he said, despite a few roadblocks.
The huge project promises to spur 600 construction jobs, with a payroll over the next 24 months of between $60 million to $65 million, he said.
There also will be 126 permanent jobs created when the new, larger hospital opens.
“This is our own economic stimulus package,” he said, quoting a county planner.
At 430,000 square feet, the new hospital will dwarf the current 250,000-square-foot facility. The emergency room will double in size, and the intensive care unit will be more than twice as large as the existing department.
Dr. Douglas Mazurek, who serves as president of the hospital’s medical staff, said the new facility is slated to open its doors in 2012.
Costas said he believes the hospital’s decision to relocate outside Valparaiso to a more central site was a good one. The entire area will benefit, he said, by the investment and by stopping the flow of patient dollars elsewhere.
He believes the current hospital site in the city would best be put to use by the adjacent Valparaiso University, which has a goal of increasing enrollment by 50 percent over the next decade.