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Health & Medicine

OSF HealthCare Expansion Emblematic Of Peoria's Next Identity Shift

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Tim Shelley
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New windows are being installed in the former Block & Kuhl building downtown. It's slated to become OSF HealthCare's new headquarters, with 750 employees working out of the historic 1905 office building.

OSF HealthCare is moving its new headquarters into a downtown Peoria building once destined to make way for the new Caterpillar world headquarters that never was. In some ways, it's emblematic of healthcare supplanting heavy equipment as Peoria's leading industry.

Ten years ago, OSF HealthCare ran six hospitals. Today, they operate 15 throughout Illinois and Michigan. But Peoria still remains the healthcare system's main base of operations. And they're expanding, rather than downsizing, that investment.

Jim Mormann is CEO of integrated solutions and chief information officer for OSF HealthCare. He says it ultimately stems back to the Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis who head the healthcare system.

"The Sisters' residency within the community has always been here. They believe strongly in the community and the vibrancy of the community and you know, anything they can do, and I think they've shown this time and time again in the Peoria market and in all the communities there they're always there to kind of continue to help and ensure the fact that the community survives," Mormann said.

Ryan Spain is OSF HealthCare's director of government relations. He says the new OSF HealthCare headquarters project was largely driven by the Sisters.

"This wasn't something that really wasn't on the drawing board previously for OSF, but our Sisters feel a great commitment to Peoria as their home and the Peoria region as the headquarters for OSF," Spain said.

Caterpillar donated several buildings originally slated for the wrecking ball to OSF in 2018. That includes the iconic Block & Kuhl building.

"This project, the downtown headquarters project really is something very special, and it's something that came as a surprise under some surprising circumstances for the community," said Spain. "But I think it's one that will be transformational for the future of Peoria."

OSF plans to relocate 750 employees to the nine-story building, which is taking on much of its original exterior look from 1905, thanks to the requirements of the historic tax credits used to partially fund the project.

Congressman Darin LaHood says investments in the medical community now will pay dividends later.

"We're going to continue to attract people to Peoria when you have good jobs and good opportunities, particularly in the medical field, for quality people that want to move here. That's all part of the plan," LaHood said.

Ryan Spain joked that some people see OSF as the savior of old buildings like the former Cub Foods store on Knoxville in Peoria, but Jim Mormann says there's a strategy shaping those acquisitions.

"It's not about building new all the time. It's about how do you take something that's in a community, make it work for the services that they need in the case here in the Peoria market, where you mentioned some larger scale buildings. You know, it's really about centralization of our services," he said.

There's also new construction happening, such as the $237 million Comprehensive Cancer Center planned on the city's East Bluff.

"We looked at oncology services. We've seen a gap within what was actually in our treatment process. So advancing the treatment processes to bring greater vibrancy to the community was an important piece," said Mormann.

Spain says it will offer Central Illinois residents cancer services they'd have to travel to St. Louis or Chicago to access now.

"(It's) something that you would see in Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and that continues to put Peoria on the map as the dominant healthcare hub of the Midwest," Spain said.

The center will treat cancer using proton beam therapy, which can pinpoint radiation in trouble spots while minimizing damage to healthy tissue. When completed, Peoria will have one of just 32 proton beam treatment centers in the U.S.

Developer Kim Blickenstaff took Sister Judith Ann Duvall on a tour in April to tell her how his proposed Interplay Park concept over Interstate 74 might transform the neighborhood around OSF's properties. Blickenstaff said she sees the value in investing in the city around the OSF campus.

"Her eyes lit up about what's happening and what it would do for them recruiting professionals to the north side, to be able to live and walk and walk to work in the cancer center," he said.

Spain says OSF's moves ultimately seek to attract new talent to Peoria, and keep them here.

"As long as we can harness that economic activity, use this engine to facilitate further growth. And that's certainly what we're trying to do through these very deliberate and intentional investments that are being made in Greater Peoria," Spain said.

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