Hospital Drive Gathers Steam

$42 Million Capital Campaign Surpasses $30 Million Mark; Leaders Say Islanders Key to Completing Project

By JULIA WELLS

Less than six months after launching the largest capital campaign in the history of the Vineyard, Martha's Vineyard Hospital trustees announced this week that the drive to raise $42 million to build a new hospital has exceeded the $30 million mark.

"It's an important moment and a very exciting time," said trustee and capital campaign co-chairman Warren Specter, who reported the campaign has amassed more than $30 million in commitments and pledges. Mr. Specter, who is a New York investment banker and seasonal resident of Chilmark, heads the capital campaign along with Frank Biondi, a former California cinema executive and seasonal resident of Edgartown.

The capital campaign was launched July 4 with the announcement that trustees had secured more than $20 million in pledges. Construction is planned to begin either late next year or in the spring of 2007. The plan calls for replacing the decrepit hospital on Linton Lane in the Eastville section of Oak Bluffs with a state-of-the-art, 19-bed clinical facility. The current hospital building dates to 1974 and is in extremely poor condition. Buckets are routinely placed in hallways when it rains.

The entire sum of $42 million will be raised from private donations.

In telephone interviews this week Mr. Specter and Mr. Biondi both said the capital campaign will turn this winter to the year-round Island community for help.

"We have been in the quieter phase of the Islander campaign, but I am advocating that we turn up the volume," Mr. Specter said.

"We need to get broad Island participation - as broad as possible - it's a community hospital after all, and it's got all the peculiarities of an Island institution," he added.

Mr. Biondi agreed.

"It's sort of been slow and steady and in decent increments and people have been generous. There has been a lot of hard work; there have been a small number of fairly significant pledges and a lot of really good-sized pledges. The focus now is on really finishing out the solicitation of other high net-worth givers but also on turning to the Island community. That has always been the plan," he said.

The decision to rebuild the hospital in its current location has come under questioning in recent months by members of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, who have hosted a series of informal discussions with hospital leaders about the project. Eventually the project will be required to clear a number of regulatory hurdles, including formal review by the commission as a development of regional impact (DRI).

Last month the MVC appointed a subcommittee to explore alternative sites, even though hospital leaders told the commission that they had explored alternative locations two years ago and abandoned their search, primarily for reasons of cost.

Estimates for building at a new location were in the $60 million range.

This week Mr. Specter reacted bluntly to the commission's decision to examine alternative sites - again.

"I live 35 minutes from the hospital, and personally I would like to see it in a more central location, but more important to me than shifting the location is getting the job done," Mr. Specter began. He continued:

"We can get this done if we can get the Martha's Vineyard Commission to give up on some dream of moving it to another location. There is no other location that someone is offering us - and even more than that, I am afraid I can't raise that kind of money.

"I can raise and will raise the money to build a new clinical facility, but if the Martha's Vineyard Commission is insistent on this idea then they will succeed in killing it. We think it will delay construction, we will lose donors and we will have to start again. And I think it would be a terrible thing if the Island lost this opportunity because the Martha's Vineyard Commission had some idea that they had not fully thought through."

Mr. Biondi said he respects the role of the MVC as a regional planning agency, but he too said the idea of exploring alternative locations is at best a risky venture.

"I think everybody understands there is a process here, but even if there were another piece of land - and we don't think there is - if it were for sale it would increase the price of the project to where it was not feasible. And if it were donated it would delay the process and make it impractical," he said, adding: "It's a difficult situation because we are literally at the cusp of realizing a project that most folks didn't think could happen, which is raising more than $40 million and building a first-class hospital facility. If the commission cannot find a way to approve it on site, it's not going to happen and that would be a shame."

Returning to the subject of Islander participation in the capital campaign, Mr. Specter issued an open appeal to longtime residents and business leaders to join the cause.

"We need two things: broad participation, thousands and thousands of donors, so we can show that it is a community hospital," Mr. Specter said. "We also need broad participation and leadership from Islanders, because this project will not be done with only participation from the summer community."

Mr. Specter also emphasized that even with $30 million in pledges and commitments, the job is still far from done.

"All I can think about every day is that we are $12 million short and I am not quite sure how we are going to get there. It is incredible that the community has pulled together to do this, but we still need $12 million. People should also remember that we are going to do this without adding any long-term debt to the hospital," he said.

Mr. Specter recalled the day earlier this year when eight people sat in his office in New York city and forged the first pledge commitments.

"The first $10 million was raised in my office with eight people. The last $10 million will be the hardest - it will be 1,000 people," he said, concluding:

"It all comes down to a simple question: do you want a new hospital? Because we are here and we are raising the money and this is a historic opportunity. So let's get this done."

Mr. Biondi underscored the need.

"On an Island you have to have a hospital - you can't drive to the next town. We have a first-class medical facility when it comes to services and clinicians. The only thing the hospital doesn't get good grades on is the physical plant - and this campaign will solve that. It needs to be done, and for the most part I think the community understands that," he said.