Mercy Hospital CEO Charlie Therrien said Tuesday that the hospital would like to keep a presence at its State Street location in Portland, “but we’re not locked in.” Administrators expect the hospital to move to a new campus on the Fore River Parkway in 2021.

Before Mercy Hospital leaves the downtown Portland site it has occupied for 75 years, it wants a say in what replaces it.

The hospital, which intends to move in 2021 to a new campus on the Fore River Parkway, has issued a “request for information” to potential developers of its 144 State St. location, an unusual method for seeking potential buyers. Administrators want not only the best price for the facility and the 3.5 acres it occupies, but also details on what a developer would do with the site, and how it would work with the hospital, city officials and neighborhood groups to reuse the property, said Charlie Therrien, president of Mercy.

“Let’s try to think differently for how to approach this,” Therrien said, noting the hospital is trying to be sensitive about the impact of its departure.

Therrien said Mercy is on track with its plans to consolidate operations at the Fore River site, where it already has a 151,000-square-foot building. Plans call for a second building, with about 108,000 square feet of space, to be added by 2021 and for the full hospital to relocate at that point.

The hospital was waiting for its finances to stabilize – it lost more than $20 million in the past two years – before committing to construction of another building and a complete relocation. Therrien said the hospital has been profitable so far in the current fiscal year, which started last October.

Mercy isn’t putting any preconditions on what developers can propose for the site and it isn’t bound to accept any of their ideas, Therrien said Tuesday. He said Mercy might like a continued presence on the site, possibly a clinic geared toward serving patients in the neighborhood.

“We would like to keep a presence, but we’re not locked in,” Therrien said. “If we don’t find something that works well, we’ll try something else.”

The redevelopment process is new, Therrien said, and the hospital doesn’t want to curb creative thinking by limiting what can go on the site.

“We’re casting a wide net to both regional and national developers,” Therrien said, but he declined to say who would be invited to submit proposals. “We want to see what the options are. We want to see if there are some creative ideas.”

Therrien said he assumes most of the proposals will be for mixed-use development, incorporating housing, commercial and retail uses. He declined to speculate on how using the request-for-information approach might affect the price.

If listed on the open market, Therrien said, the property could fetch up to $20 million. Money from the sale of the property will help pay for the new building on the Fore River site, which is expected to cost about $75 million. The existing building on the Fore River Parkway, which was completed in 2008 and now houses some hospital operations, cost roughly $87 million.

Charlie Therrien, CEO of Mercy Hospital, said the hospital is trying to be sensitive about the impact of its departure from Portland’s West End.

DEADLINE SET FOR LATE NEXT MONTH

Developers have until Sept. 27 to indicate if they plan to participate in the process that Mercy has set out. Mercy will pick finalists in mid-November, conduct interviews with developers and pick a developer – or opt to put the property on the market – by Jan. 15. After that, the two sides would nail down details and sign a contract.

Therrien said the hospital would consider selling and then leasing back the property so it could continue to operate on the site until it moves to the Fore River Parkway.

Neighborhood groups and city officials said they welcome Mercy’s approach. A few blocks away from Mercy’s campus, Maine Medical Center is undergoing a huge, $500 million expansion that has caused some friction with residents.

Mercy and neighborhood groups hope that won’t be repeated on State Street.

“We always say, ‘Make us love your project,’ ” said Emma Holder, president of the Parkside Neighborhood Association, and Mercy is giving a new developer a chance to do that, she said.

Holder said the association is happy to have a voice in the redevelopment of the hospital site from the beginning. Mercy has said the neighborhood associations will get regular updates on proposals as the process unfolds, she said.

While Mercy will have the final say on what will be done with the property, she said, it’s important for neighbors to feel their voices will be heard.

“We’ve got lots of great ideas and want to be involved,” she said, “I do think that Mercy’s doing it right. It shows how aware they are of community needs and they’re not interested in just vacating and heading down to the Fore River site.”

CITY PRAISES THOUGHTFUL APPROACH

Elizabeth Parsons, president of the West End Neighborhood Association, also praised Mercy’s approach.

“We are very appreciative that they reached out to us,” she said. “We’ll see how things unfold.”

Parsons said that because it’s early in the process, there’s no consensus on what should go in to replace the hospital.

“There’s a general interest in reweaving the fabric of the neighborhood,” she said, noting that the site is in a historic preservation district and will have to comply with rules for that part of the city.

“A general commitment to having a good dialogue and communication about this and listening to each other” is a positive start, Parsons said.

Tuck O’Brien, Portland’s city planner, also praised the hospital’s approach, calling it “very thoughtful.”

O’Brien said he expects “a collaborative effort” on picking a proposal for the site, which will make it easier when a new owner seeks city approvals. The site is zoned for residential use and will almost certainly need to be rezoned when it’s redeveloped, he said.

City officials, like neighborhood groups, are eager to have a say in shaping what comes next.

“It’s their property, but we’re happy to advise them and meet people and make suggestions,” he said.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

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