Columbia Hospital site hangs in the balance

    Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:39 pm

    University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee officials asked the state for $112 million last year to acquire the Columbia Hospital property, but now say they may not end up acquiring the site after all. The hospital at 2025 E. Newport Ave. is located in the middle of the UWM campus. However, the property isn’t for sale until 2010, when Columbia St. Mary’s will consolidate its Columbia operations into a new facility at the site of St. Mary’s Hospital, 2323 N. Lake Drive., completing a $417 million project.

    “From my perspective, we can’t wait (until 2010),” said UWM Chancellor Carlos Santiago. “We’re going to be forging our own direction, and whether Columbia St. Mary’s is in our plans or not – we’ll have to wait and see.”

    Last year, the State Building Commission approved the bonding for UWM’s funding request, releasing $56 million earmarked for Columbia’s purchase each biennium through 2011.

    If acquired, half of the debt would be paid off through revenue generated at the Columbia site through UWM student housing, parking and food service, said David Miller, UW System assistant vice president for capital planning. The remaining half would be paid through state funds.

    Currently, the university has an academic, research and student living space deficit of 900,000 square feet. The Columbia Hospital property would add 850,000 square feet of building space.

    “The purchase (of the Columbia Hospital property) would be a logical move, given its proximity (and) potential,” Santiago said.

    “We continue to work with UWM on the sale,” said Kathy Schmitz, spokeswoman for Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital. “We think it is the best of the use of the hospital campus, (but) ultimately we’re not sure if they’ll be the successful buyer.”

    The Columbia site could be used to provide more housing for UWM students. In recent years, the university’s enrollment has climbed to about 28,000, and more UWM students are choosing to live on or near campus. Santiago said UWM needs to provide more housing for students to meet that demand and attract top-notch students.

    “We have 2,700 beds on campus,” he said. “We received over 12,000 applications for those 2,700 beds. There are very good students that decide not to come here because we cannot offer them space (to live on campus). We lose very good students to that. Even though the quality of the student body has continued to go up, it would go up even more if in fact we had the space.”

    Most of the Columbia Hospital property could be used for student housing, said UWM spokesman Tom Luljak. However, UWM would also probably use some of the property for laboratory space and classrooms, he said.

    Milwaukee Alderman Michael D’Amato said he and the city would support UWM’s acquisition of the hospital property if it can expand programming and research capabilities at the university. However, he doesn’t support using the site for dorms, because residents of the city’s upper east side are opposed to the notion of more students moving into their neighborhood.

    “If Columbia is used for dorms, as the present proposal states, then the city is completely opposed (to UWM acquiring it),” D’Amato said. “It is completely unacceptable that it be used for (housing).”

    UWM recently launched its Research Growth Initiative to help determine the best use for the Columbia property, if it is acquired.

    “We want to become a strong, powerful research university,” Luljak said.

    The university needs more laboratories to achieve that goal, he said, and the Columbia property could provide space for those labs.

    “We have an ambitious and important challenge to bring more clusters of researchers to campus,” Luljak said.

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