Supporters of a new hospital for Wishard Health Services declared victory Tuesday night after voters overwhelmingly backed the $754 million project in a special election.
With more than 50 percent of precincts reporting results as of early Wednesday morning, 83 percent of voters had approved the referendum backing the project. More than 40,000 votes had been counted.
Typically, taxpayers vote on such referenda when city leaders want to raise taxes to fund a new project. That’s not the case for Wishard, which has advanced a plan to pay for the new hospital with no tax increase. Wishard wants taxpayers to guarantee bonds it plans to sell so it can get much lower interest rates for the project.
Wishard parent organization Health and Hospital Corp. of Marion County wants to sell $703 million in bonds to replace the aging complex at 10th Street and University Boulevard. The hospital corporation already has saved $150 million to apply toward the $754 million project, and it hopes to raise another $50 million from donors.
“I know of no other public project in the history of our state where a public entity has been able to save $150 million as a down payment of a project,” said Health and Hospital Corp. CEO Matt Gutwein before the election.
Gutwein was joined by Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard in proclaiming victory in the special election Tuesday night even before half the vote was tallied.
"These referendum results confirm our city’s commitment to ensuring that all our residents have access to high quality health care,” Gutwein said in a written statement. "A historic coalition came together to support Wishard. We are deeply appreciative of their leadership in supporting this project, and to the voters, who offered the most resounding confirmation with each of their sacred ballots, we offer heartfelt thanks.”
Ballard said the referendum results meant thousands of jobs would be retained and created.
“While the focus has been on the care and teaching that Wishard provides, it’s important to note that the construction of the new hospital will create more than 4,400 jobs, maybe more over the course of the project,” said Ballard. “This means new work for many of our hard-working citizens who will put their training and expertise into building this great new facility.”
Gutwein has made more than 200 presentations in the last few months—including talks at four churches last Sunday—arguing that Wishard officials have built in such a large cushion for error, that the hospital will never have to fall back on taxpayers for help.
Selling the bonds now would take advantage of historically low interest rates, saving Wishard hundreds of millions of dollars, Gutwein estimates.
Wishard estimates its annual debt payments for the new hospital will be at least $38 million a year for 30 years. That’s 10 times higher than it currently spend on debt payments. But Gutwein noted that the higher payments still amount to only 4.25 percent of the hospital corporation’s budget.
Gutwein said his staff is ready to move immediately to launch the bond sale and start construction work on the new hospital site, which will rest between the Veteran’s Affairs hospital and the IUPUI campus, roughly on the site of the former Larue-Carter mental hospital.
Without an election victory, Gutwein said, “the most probable outcome would be that we would be required eventually to close Wishard.”