The last time Lenox Hill Hospital built a major new facility on its legacy campus it was 1972 and John Lindsay was mayor.
Now, the storied, 162-year-old medical institution on the Upper East Side is about to make up for lost time.
It is launching a sweeping, decade-long redevelopment project that will radically transform how it practices medicine and delivers patient care.
Plans call for razing or stripping to the shell the entire hospital campus in phases as taller, modern structures rise up on site to replace them.
That means a full city block, bounded by Park and Lexington Avenues and 76th and 77th Streets, will be rebuilt, reimagined and reinvented.
When the dust settles — and there will be plenty of it — the 780,000-square-foot, multi-building hodgepodge that is today’s hospital will give way to a new seamless, purpose-built institution occupying 1.32 million square feet.
That 69 percent increase in the facility’s envelope will enable Lenox Hill Hospital, which is under the umbrella of Northwell Health, to develop modern, full-size patient rooms, operating rooms, emergency room, imaging suites and other clinical care units that will dwarf the current aging and undersized offerings, its executives say.
“Other major facilities in Manhattan have advanced their physical plants dramatically and expanded over the past couple of years,” said Michael Dowling, the president and CEO of Northwell. “And we cannot just stand still and continue to exist where the youngest building in this facility today was built 40 years ago.”
The superblock that runs 204 feet along the avenues and 405 feet down the side streets is made up of 10 buildings that were haphazardly stitched together in the period between the War of 1898 and the Nixon administration.
“It was a combination of 10 pieces that were not put together in the ideal fashion,” Dowling said. “In fact, it seems like it was done for the purposes of confusion, so you couldn’t find your way around. It’s like that maze they put people into, and I’ve never been able to get out at the other end without help.”
The bottom line: “What we’re left with today, despite all of the great work that we’re doing, is a tired and old facility that is not conducive to the kinds of care we need to be delivering,” the CEO added.
Accordingly, Lenox Hill is starting all over again — just as it did in 1857, when it was founded as the German Hospital and Dispensary on Canal Street; in 1868, when it first put down stakes on Park Avenue; and in 1918, when it dropped its old name at the height of World War I.
THE ENDURING BRANDIn fact, the Lenox Hill Hospital name is just about the only thing its executives are vowing not to change:
“That’s an iconic name — a special name with a special meaning and an extraordinary history,” Dowling said. “You don’t throw away history, you preserve and celebrate it ... So we’re never changing the name, and if I ever think of doing it, shoot me!”
Of course, some of Lenox Hill’s history will inevitably come tumbling down. Eight of its 10 buildings will be demolished. Two of them, the Wollman Pavilion and the Lachman Building, will be gut rehabilitated.
Expect clangorous, if staged, construction as the existing campus is effectively erased from the streetscape.
And through it all, the hospital will remain open and fully operational.
“We’re not into disruption for disruption’s sake, but progress does require a little bit of commotion,” Dowling said. “At the end of the day, when all is done, the community will be a better place — and people will come here to see what a modern futuristic hospital looks like.”
It won’t come cheap, and it won’t come fast: Overall project costs are estimated at north of $2 billion, and possibly in the $2.5 billion to $3 billion range.
The extensive city and state approval process is expected to take some 1.5 years or longer, and multi-phased construction could last seven to nine years, meaning a final ribbon-cutting might not occur until 2028 or 2029.
Lenox Hill’s plans were first reported exclusively by Our Town in mid-January, in a Page 1 story which outlined how the institution was exploring the sale of a portion of its frontage on Park Avenue for high-end residences to help underwrite redevelopment costs.
On March 7, Northwell took the first step in making those preliminary plans public, submitting an application with the Dept. of City Planning to formally kick off the long review-and-approval process and laying out how it would rebuild its Manhattan flagship.
Earlier that same day, four hospital executives conducted an hour-long briefing for the newspaper, and followed it up with a half-hour tour of the aging facilities, conducted by Joshua Strugatz, the vice president for Manhattan redevelopment, to demonstrate the facility’s pressing need to revamp.
TRIPLING THE ER, BOOSTING THE ORAmong the highlights of the new Lenox Hill Hospital project:
* A 516-foot, 30-story tower on Lexington Avenue. The main hospital entrance, currently mid-block on 77th Street, will be moved around the corner to Lex and 76th Street, and patients will enter via a two-story, glassed-in public atrium fronted by colonnades.
* A new Mother-Baby Hospital. The 259-foot, 13-story facility for women and children will have a dedicated entrance on Park Avenue at the corner of 77th Street.
* A Neonatal Intensive Care Unit more than 10 times the size of the current NICU. Infants today are spaced out a mere three feet apart in a 2,500-square-foot facility, Strugatz said on the tour. The proposed new NICU will be 26,700 square feet – and each baby will be given a full-size patient room.
* A 53,000-square-foot Emergency Room, tripling in size from the existing 14,300 square feet to meeting surging volume. “If you build it, they will come,” said Dr. Jill Kalman, Lenox Hill’s executive director. The ER now treats some 56,000 patients per year, she said. “That number will certainly double,” she added.
* A break from what Dowling dubs a “horror show for the community.” Double- and triple-parked ambulances routinely clog 77th Street as they discharge patients at the ER. That traffic nightmare will be ameliorated, somewhat, by building a covered, off-street pull-in niche that has room for six parked ambulances.
* A land sale. This is the real estate play that is expected to finance about half of the project. Lenox Hill owns some of the priciest parcels in Manhattan, and it will seek approval to monetize a site at the corner of Park Avenue and 76th Street for ultra-luxurious residences.
The hospital wants to upzone a stretch of Park Avenue where heights are generally capped at 210 feet. If it succeeds, it could sell a buildable lot for a 490-foot, 41-story tower that could house up to 200 residential units spread out over 337,000 square feet.
“I’ve worked with a lot of real estate guys, and they salivate over the possibility of doing something in this part of Manhattan,” Dowling said. “I don’t mind the fact that they salivate — I just want their money.”
* An ADA-accessible 77th Street subway stop. Since the hospital is seeking additional density, it is offering certain community benefits, and among them is widening the stairways at the Lexington Avenue station, providing all-weather coverage on the stairs and making it accessible to the disabled.
* A private setting for healing. There would be 475 patient rooms, up from 450, and they would all be private and single-bedded, as opposed to the current configuration in which about two thirds of the rooms are double-bedded. Total room size would grow to 322 square feet from 253 square feet.
* A larger theater for surgeries. There would be 30 larger operating rooms, up from 25 smaller ORs.
“This is about building a modern hospital for modern medicine, and preserving an institution that is a core part of this community,” Dowling said.
“As an organization, we like to set high targets,” he added. “We like to dream a lot. But then, we like to implement. Dreaming alone doesn’t help you. We like to basically lay out a vision of what’s possible, and this is possible, this is doable, this will happen.”