The Huntsville Times: Growth drives plans for medical complex
by Steve Doyle
Five-story ‘urban’ building planned on Governors Drive The city’s continually expanding downtown medical district is about to get another large building. Birmingham-based Inkana Development plans to build a five-story, $30 million medical office tower on land owned by Huntsville Hospital at the corner of Governors Drive and Gallatin Street. On Tuesday, the city Board of Zoning Adjustment granted a variance allowing the building to go within about 20 feet of Governors Drive. Structures are typically required to be set back at least 50 feet from the street.
“It’s going to look a little more urban, more like downtown,” Rudy Hornsby, the hospital’s senior vice president of support services, said Wednesday.
Developer Slade Blackwell said the building, tentatively called Governors Medical Tower, will be packed with high-tech features allowing the doctors who work there to use cutting-edge diagnostic equipment. “We’re trying to make sure,” Blackwell said, “that the infrastructure is there for all the technology the medical field continues to come out with. It’s really a good-looking building.”
It will be tied to the hospital via a new, longer pedestrian bridge over Governors Drive. The hospital is being forced to tear down its old skyway because of the upcoming Governors Drive widening project; Hornsby said the new bridge will also connect to HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital and the Dowdle Center, home of the hospital’s Corporate University continuing-education program. The tower site has quite a history: It once housed Fifth Avenue School, which on Sept. 9, 1963, became the first all-white public school in Alabama to enroll a black student, Sonnie Hereford IV. The school later became a clinic affiliated with the University of Alabama at Birmingham; it was demolished in 2003.
Inkana, run by former Huntsville Finance Director John Blackwell and his sons, plans to lease the property from Huntsville Hospital for an undisclosed sum. Part of the building’s roughly 125,000 square feet is already spoken for: The Spine & Neurosurgery Center plans to relocate there from Rand Avenue. The busy practice includes six brain surgeons: John Johnson, Joel Pickett, Rhett Murray, Rob Hash, Jason Banks and Cheng Tao. Hornsby said hospital officials are talking to about 15 doctors who are interested in moving to the new office tower, though none has signed lease agreements. He said one floor will be set aside for physicians recruited here in the future. The city’s evolution as a medical hotspot has drawn dozens of new docs to town recently, and medical office space is at a premium. Huntsville Hospital has about 600,000 square feet of physician office space on its main campus, but Hornsby said almost all of it is rented. “We’re pretty much out of space,” he said. Ground is to be broken for Governors Medical Tower in the spring and will take about a year to complete. Hornsby said he hopes construction can be timed to coincide with the widening of Governors Drive, since the area is already going to be torn up. “I’m trying to make that all work together,” he said, “but it’ll be a miracle if we can pull it off.”
Inkana has developed or helped develop several area buildings, including the Colonial Bank tower on Church Street, Huntsville Hospital’s Madison wellness center and Decatur General Hospital’s Plaza II office tower.
Slade Blackwell said Inkana is a Cherokee Indian word meaning, “I am a friend of his, he is a friend of mine.”
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