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Mixed-Use Planned at Former Hospital Site

Escondido finally has an answer — part of one anyway — on what will be done with the hospital campus that has stood as a landmark in the city’s downtown since the 1950s.

Palomar Health CEO Robert “Bob” Hemker told the health care district’s board of directors earlier this month that Palomar Medical Center Downtown will be redeveloped into housing, for sale or rental, plus some kind of commercial space.

Details were scant, but Hemker said the district selected the winning bid from a pool of four finalists, all of them proposing some sort of mixed-use development. Palomar initially received six bids in response to a formal solicitation of proposals in September.

The winning bid will be announced, along with the buyer and price, at Palomar’s March meeting, Hemker said. The three-hospital district has declined to release details until then on any of the proposals it has received.

Housing Supply

Whatever is eventually built at the site of the old hospital, 555 E. Valley Parkway, is sure to have a strong impact on Escondido’s downtown — more so if it includes housing.

Rorie Johnston, CEO of the Escondido Chamber of Commerce, was particularly interested in Hemker’s comments about residential development in the area.

“That’s what Escondido lacks: opportunities for people to purchase a home, be it a starter or (retirees looking) to live in a more urban setting,” she said.

Johnston’s preference is for-sale housing in the area, which she said would lead to more amenities downtown and less of the frequent turnover often associated with rental units.

Regardless, she gave news of the hospital’s near-term redevelopment a “thumbs-up.”

“The last thing we want is … an albatross of a building remaining vacant for any period of time, particularly when it’s a corridor to our downtown,” she said.

The director of the Escondido Arts Partnership, Chris Moats, was also supportive of housing at the site, so long as the hospital is actually demolished. She said she couldn’t imagine living in an old hospital.

$20M Annual Operating Loss

Moats, like Johnston, was pleased just to hear something would happen to the building in the near term.

“Having anything done at the end of Grand (Avenue) would just sort of open up that corridor to a lot more and have people move toward the end of the block would be great,” she said.

“I’m hoping it’ll turn into a cute little boutique hotel,” Moats said before clarifying that she’s not necessarily holding out for that kind of use. “Even if (it’s) mixed-use, like coffee and ice cream, where people can go and do things, definitely, that would be great.”

Palomar says it has little choice but to sell the hospital, which it estimates has been running at a $20 million annual operating loss. Deferred maintenance and other costs to bring the building fully up to code would cost $162 million, the district said.

Already, the district has closed medical services that had been available downtown. It closed the emergency department in March, and on Dec. 1, it transitioned the downtown location’s birth center to one at Palomar Medical Center Escondido, 2185 Citracado Parkway.

The district announced in June 2015 it was planning to close the hospital. A timetable for redeveloping the property has not been disclosed.

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