For years, Bluffton leaders dreamt of surrounding the Buckwalter Place headquarters of eviCore — a managed health care benefits and one of the town’s largest employers — with other healthcare and technology companies.
Those dreams appeared to be fading in recent years as large parcels of land remained undeveloped and plans to build a new Kroger grocery store — rather than a high-tech facilities — began taking shape.
But with the recent annoucement by Savannah-based health care provider St. Joseph’s/Candler of plans to build a new $22-million, 40,000-square-foot medical campus on four acres, town officials say the development is moving in a direction more in step with the original vision for Buckwalter Place.
“This area is going to be exactly what we envisioned,” Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka said Monday after a formal introduction of St. Joseph’s/Candler’s plans. “We’ve got the Don Ryan Center, we’ve got the healthcare aspect, we’ve got (the Technical College of the Lowcountry) coming with their culinary institute.”
“It’s taken a lot of patience,” she said. “But things are starting to fit in line with the whole innovation and technology thought process.”
Mark Senn, president of Buckwalter Place builder Southeastern Development, said during coversations with town leaders, it became clear that “they wanted this to be more than just retail.”
“Buckwalter Place (is) a place for big ideas,” he said Monday.
Part of the original concept of bringing a medical and technology park to Bluffton was the creation of high-skilled, high-paying jobs to bolster the region’s service industry-reliant economy.
The medical campus — planned in two phases over about 6 years — will provide patients with consolidated medical services including primary care, physical therapy, wound care, x-ray and MRI imaging, as well as radiation and oncology treatment, according to St. Joseph’s/Candler president Paul Hinchey.
“We really embrace (Bluffton’s) vision of making (Buckwalter Place) a medical and technological hub for this community,” Hinchey said Monday.
It will also provide the town with more than 60 jobs with an annual payroll of more than $6 million, he said.
“There is going to be fairly significant, incremental job growth — and these are all knowledge-based jobs that will be a real economic driver,” Hinchey said.
It’s not just businesses sprouting up around Buckwalter Place, it’s also residences.
Hundreds of new apartments and single-family homes are being built or planned in nearby areas along Bluffton Parkway and Buckwalter Place Boulevard.
“We never wanted the historic district Bluffton to be the only gathering place in town,” Sulka said. “(Buckwalter Place) is truly becoming a live-work, walkable village-type area.”
As the medical campus begins taking shape, Hinchey said it is St. Joseph’s/Candler’s intent to engage the town and local developers to help facilitate more affordable and workforce housing in the area.