Essentia Health Overcomes Site Challenges To Build St. Mary’s Medical Center In Downtown Duluth, Minnesota

Essentia Health Overcomes Site Challenges To Build St. Mary’s Medical Center In Downtown Duluth, Minnesota

BY: Anne DiNardo

March 4, 2024

Essentia Health–St. Mary’s Medical Center, Duluth, Minnesota

Essentia Health’s St. Mary’s Medical Center has been part of the downtown skyline in Duluth, Minn., for more than 100 years. Housing a Level I adult and Level II pediatric trauma center along with 24-hour emergency and critical care services, the hospital’s catchment area spans most of northern Minnesota as well as parts of Wisconsin and North Dakota.

However, its aging hospital, including semiprivate patient rooms and services spread across a maze of building additions on the downtown campus, had created inefficiencies. “We had outgrown the layout, not only from a patient perspective but a care perspective as well,” says Dan Cebelinski, system vice president of facility services at Essentia Health (Duluth).

Rather than renovate the existing hospital or build another addition, the healthcare organization sought a fresh start. While moving outside the city or finding a greenfield site were viable options, Essentia Health instead decided to continue supporting the city and the community’s economic vitality by staying downtown and relocating the hospital to a new location on its existing campus.

“The goal was to develop a building that not only served the hospital needs but became an asset within the city,” says Bob McConnell, president at EwingCole (Philadelphia), the architect, engineer, and interior design firm on the project.

Located on the bluffs above the western shore of Lake Superior, the new $900 million flagship facility would enable Essentia Health to streamline services, improve the patient and staff experience, and bring new public amenities to the area to increase engagement with the community.

However, before the project team could begin delivering on those goals, it had to address the project’s challenging site—spanning three city blocks and encompassing a 100-foot grade change from one end of the site to the other. “It gave them a front door right on Superior Street, which basically is right on Lake Superior,” says McConnell. “It was a challenging site, but it was the most urbanistically opportunistic site.”

The project broke ground in September 2019, and Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center opened in July 2023.