Oxford’s new hospital: North or south?

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi officials announced in 2009 that they hoped to build a $300 million, 250-bed hospital in Oxford within five years.
The current hospital on South Lamar Boulevard is landlocked on 13 acres and cannot be expanded vertically, severely limiting options for adding capacity or services.
Memphis-based Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation has leased the hospital from the city of Oxford and Lafayette County, which own it jointly. Officials from all three entities have been negotiating an agreement to end the remaining 24-year lease in favor of the new facility.
While city and county officials were quick to laud the proposal for a new hospital, negotiations have hit such a snag that Lafayette County’s board of supervisors voted in December to make all future meetings on the issue open to the public – a move that Hospital Administrator Don Hutson and Oxford Mayor George “Pat” Patterson have both publicly supported.
“Right now, all sides have done or are in the process of doing due diligence. It’s our hope that at the next meeting, on Jan. 24, that we’ll reach an agreement,” Hutson said. “The site will be decided once we reach an agreement with the city and the county.”
Early speculation focused on an undefined portion of a 550-acre tract of land across Mississippi Highway 6/U.S. Highway 278 from the University of Mississippi’s main campus.
Later speculations moved to a portion of Oxford Commons, a 560-acre planned unit development off Highway 7 and Sisk Avenue. It heightened in October when a 60-acre tract southeast of the Oxford Conference Center and south of Della Davidson Elementary School was rezoned General Business, which allows for a hospital.
Current access to that site is from Sisk Avenue via Ed Perry Boulevard; the city will require a new access road connecting to University Avenue, somewhere east of the Kroger shopping center, before any development begins. When northern development of Oxford Commons begins, a frontage road connecting to Highway 30 also will be required.
Developer and entrepreneur Kenny Coleman says a 64-acre tract south of his Windsor Falls residential development already offers superior access for the proposed regional medical facility. According to his engineer’s proposals, Coleman’s site offers more than 2,000 feet of frontage on state Highway 7 South, almost as much on South Lamar Boulevard and several hundred feet of frontage on County Road 322.
Coleman said the Mississippi Department of Transportation has given verbal permission for two east-side access points from Highway 7, and the tract’s west side could provide another three access points from South Lamar.
“That’s the best of all worlds,” he said. “You’ve got two entrances on a major artery, three on a city street and two on this county road for service vehicles.”
Because it was originally planned as a part of Windsor Falls, Coleman’s land is currently zoned RA, or single-family residential, but could be converted by special exception to hospital use.
Hutson declined comment on specific sites but said “multiple” sites are being considered.
“It’s Baptist’s intention that we go to the Jan. 24 meeting and have answered all the parties’ questions or provide answers then,” Hutson said. “The site will be decided once we reach an agreement with the city and the county.”

Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.