This morning Baptist Health of Little Rock broke ground on a $130 million, 216,000 square foot medical facility at the corner of Exchange Avenue and United Drive off Interstate 40 in Conway.
A crowd gathered at the construction site under a white tent between the Baptist Health Mobile Unit and a MedFlight helicopter where design photos for the new Baptist Health Medical Center-Conway were unveiled.
Baptist Health President and CEO Troy Wells, Gov. Mike Beebe, City of Conway Mayor Tab Townsell, Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and Conway Development Corporation President Brad Lacy as well as two Baptist Health physicians spoke about what bringing Baptist Health to Conway means for the city and state.
"I seem to break ground, cut ribbons and have economic development activities in Conway disproportionate to the rest of the state," Beebe said. "This is a vibrant community that continues to grow exponentially and outstrip so many of its neighboring communities and comparable communities around the state," he said.
Beebe said the city's growth is due to a combination of quality of life, extraordinary political and business leadership and with three colleges, Beebe said, Conway tends to have a well-educated, young population - "and that attracts business opportunity and business activity," he said.
Mayor Tab Townsell said today is a huge day for the City of Conway, thanking Baptist Health for making such a huge investment in the community.
"Health care has always been a harbinger of society," Townsell said. "Beyond the last doctor was the frontier for years. Now through the 20th century and the advances in modern medicine, that's hospitalization."
Baptist Health collaborated on this project with more than 30 Conway-based physicians to develop the new medical center. It will be operated as a not-for-profit, faith-based community hospital offering comprehensive clinical services.
“Today’s ground-breaking is the culmination of years of hard work and perseverance by a dedicated group of physicians and steering committee who have worked closely with Baptist Health Administration on the development of this project,” said Dr. Ben Dodge, Orthopedic Surgeon and Chairman of the Physician Steering Committee. “We are impressed with Baptist Health’s professionalism, integrity and insight into the healthcare needs of Arkansans.”
Townsell said Conway hasn't followed the lead of health care for years, but has since come to realize a health care facility will bring people from surrounding communities to the city of Conway.
"Only in the last 15 years have we realized that as people travel to health care, they will travel to shopping. They will travel to work. They will travel to our market area. And the existence and the push of Baptist Health into Conway is further proof that indeed this is where the market edge is and where they need to be."
The 216,000-square-foot Baptist Health Medical Center-Conway is projected to open in the first quarter of 2016 with 96 beds, eight operating rooms and a Level III trauma-center emergency room.
The estimated cost of the entire project is $130 million. GSR Andrade is providing architectural design services and CDI is serving as the General Contractor.
Chamber President Brad Lacy said the Log Cabin Democrat quoted him last week about a renaissance according along Interstate I40 in the next five years, and Baptist Health Medical Center-Conway is the first project of that renaissance.
"A $130 million project is not a small investment, so the next five years we will see a transformation here," he said.
Lacy said over the past 12 years, the sector of the economy that includes healthcare has added more than 2,000 jobs to the local economy.
"We welcome [Baptist Health] and we want to add to those numbers," he said. We value that relationship with you, and we'll be here to help you every step of the way."
The construction project is expected to generate approximately 250 jobs. At the time of completion, Baptist Health Medical Center-Conway will employ around 425 healthcare professionals and staff.
Baptist Health President and CEO Troy Wells said Baptist Health sees the opportunity to expand operations in Conway as a regional strategy serving all of Faulkner County and surrounding areas.
"We want to partner with surrounding communities and physicians to grow Baptist Health to the North," he said.
"Our vision is to improve the health of Arkansans by changing the way health care is delivered. We believe this new medical center in Conway will greatly benefit the residents in this area by ensuring a strong and sustainable future for health care."