Developer proposes restoring historic hospital in Galena, building 100 cottages

GALENA, Ill. — A developer proposes constructing a substantial lodging project in Galena that could span nearly 80 acres on the southeast edge of town.

Dave Hooten, of True North Quality Homes, last year purchased Galena Marine Hospital, located at 1304 Park Ave., along with several parcels adjoining the property.

His company now proposes to restore the hospital structure and construct more than 100 guest cottages on the property surrounding it, along with a vineyard, walking trails, a restaurant/reception hall, gardens and more.

Jim Baranski, of Galena, the architect for the project, said the proposed development would be completed in four phases over multiple years.

The first phase would involve the restoration of the hospital building to create guest rooms, as well as exhibit space and a lounge that would be open to the public.

“The reason that the project is happening in the first place is because Dave and his wife saw the Marine Hospital and fell in love with it,” Baranski said. “That was the building they really wanted to restore.”

A phone call placed to Hooten was not returned Tuesday.

Constructed around 1860, the hospital originally was built to serve men who partook in river or seafaring business. However, the hospital was quickly deemed too costly to operate and closed soon after its opening in 1865. The hospital took on several different roles in the following years, operating as a school at one point and a sanitarium at another time. In 2020, it was featured in an episode of television network A&E’s show “Ghost Hunters.”

In addition to restoration of the hospital, the first phase also would include construction of 32 guest cottages on the property. Six acres of vineyards would be planted at the south edge of the property, and a walking trail would be developed.

Following the second phase, which would add about 40 more cottages, the third phase would involve the construction of a “main building.” Baranski said this facility could include a reception hall, restaurant and potentially a spa and pool. The building would be surrounded by four acres of gardens.

In the fourth and final phase, about 40 more cottages would be added, along with an expanded walking trail and winery facilities for the vineyard.

“This could start construction sometime this year for the first phase, and then subsequent phases would happen every year or two years, depending on the demand,” Baranski said.

He could not provide a total estimated cost for construction but said the developer would not seek local incentives for the project.

Rose Noble, president and CEO of Galena Country Tourism, said she believes the project has the potential to elevate Galena’s status as a regional tourism destination.

“It aligns with a lot of the things that we discuss (as an organization), which is creating jobs, minding the environment, diversifying our revenue streams and developing an experience that isn’t here,” Noble said.

Galena residents who live near the proposed development have expressed concerns with the project, including potential noise and light pollution and the disruption of natural ecosystems.

Wendy Clark lives on Fourth Street, close to the affected area. She said the project’s impacts would be “profound in a very negative way” for neighbors like herself.

“It’s pretty devastating as a neighbor to have someone propose a large commercial lodging business right next door, in an area that is primarily residential and agricultural currently,” she said.

She noted that she views restoration of the Marine Hospital itself as a “desirable” undertaking, but that the additional development plans could dramatically increase light, noise and traffic in the area.

Baranski said the developers are conscious of these concerns and have created their plans accordingly.

For example, outdoor lighting would be downcast, and the cottages will be designed with low-reflective finishes to create more of a “warm glow rather than a glare.” He said discussions also have included the use of a shuttle service to the downtown district, which would minimize traffic in the neighborhood.

Noble acknowledged neighbors’ concerns but emphasized that the tourism dollars such a project could attract would benefit the entire county.

“At the end of the day, we are vying for people to come spend their vacations here, and we need to have a product that entices repeat visitors as well,” she said. “Visitor spending severely impacts how we live here in our county, and that’s just the facts.”

Baranski said he and Hooten plan to submit the project to the city this week to be considered at the next meeting of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, slated for Feb. 9.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the city had not received an application for the project, according to City Administrator Mark Moran. The application needs to be submitted by the end of the business day today to ensure placement on the Feb. 9 agenda.

Baranski is a member of the Zoning Board but said he would recuse himself from the vote on the Marine Hospital development.