Bellarmine University’s president, Dr. Susan M. Donovan, announced today that the university is under contract to purchase the Watterson Medical Center, an 80,000-square-foot health care facility at 3430 Newburg Road. Bellarmine’s endowment fund will pay approximately $11 million for the two-story building – which opened in 1992 – and the surrounding land.
Bill Mudd, chairman of the Bellarmine Board of Trustees, said, “while the purchase diversifies the university’s endowment into commercial real estate, the property is also adjacent to our new sports park and its tenants are predominantly in life sciences, which is strategically important to our curriculum.” The purchase should be complete by mid-April.
"The Watterson Medical Center's mix of primary care and specialty services – including health care programs for U.S. veterans – makes it an important community asset, especially for the neighborhoods surrounding it, which have more challenging health outcomes than other parts of Louisville," Donovan said. "Owning this medical center – and finding ways to support and enhance the valuable community health services it offers – makes perfect sense for us, given Bellarmine's history of community leadership and service."
A recent study
by the Louisville Metro Center for Health Equity illustrates the importance of a strong medical facility in that area. According to the study, the neighborhoods surrounding the Watterson Medical Center have death rates from diabetes, cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS that are higher than local and national averages.
The Watterson Medical Center purchase was funded in part through a $5 million anonymous gift from a donor couple who believe in Bellarmine’s mission and in the opportunities this acquisition provides. It is the largest outright individual gift in the university’s history. The remainder of the purchase price comes from university endowment funds; the property will be held as part of Bellarmine's endowment investments.
The building's current tenants include a Veterans Administration Healthcare Center offering primary care, a women's health clinic and a geriatric clinic. Other tenants include Frazier Rehab, U.S. HealthWorks (occupational medicine), Rheumatology Associates and Chest Medicine Associates. The revenue provided through the leases will generate a 7 percent annual return that will support both the university operating budget and the endowment.
“Engagement in the Louisville community, providing excellent academic programs, and responding to the needs of society speak to Bellarmine’s founding and the character of this great university,” Donovan said. “Being a good neighbor to those in need is fundamental to the Bellarmine mission and seizing this opportunity offers unlimited possibilities to enhance our programs in physical therapy, nursing, health services, exercise science and athletic training, and to expand student internships, service learning and community service opportunities.”
Bellarmine has no current plans to change the commercial property's use. The university's College of Health Professions will explore opportunities to collaborate with the building's occupants on student learning and service opportunities.
The 7.3-acre property adjoins 11 acres purchased by Bellarmine in 2015. That property currently includes a practice facility for Bellarmine’s wrestling team along with outdoor athletic fields for practice and intramural sports.