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Cornelius News

Atrium Health Lake Norman began life as a $153 million project. Now it’s valued at $250 million

Updated rendering of the new Atrium hospital


April 17. “This is going to be a lot more than a hospital. It’s going to be a healthcare campus,” said Bill Leonard, the facility executive for Atrium Health University City, who joined Cornelius Today and Business Today for a Newsmakers Breakfast to discuss the rapidly developing hospital site in Cornelius.

Bill Leonard, the facility executive for Atrium Health University City | Photo by Jason Benavides

Set to open in the summer of 2025, the $255 million project is situated on 31 acres along Hwy. 21, the site of the failed Augustalee development. Leonard would not disclose plans for the remaining 70 acres.

“What you’re going to see onsite is really dramatic,” Leonard said. Interior studs are already going up, and by early April, the building should be encapsulated in pre-fabricated exterior panels. The design is by Boston-based NBBJ, who have designed headquarters facilities for LinkedIn and BlackRock in addition to other healthcare clients. General contractor JE Dunn is completing the site work.

Expanded already

The economic impact will be even more dramatic than the construction, Leonard said. A fifth floor has been added to the original four-floor plan. When finished, the hospital will have two operating rooms, two procedure rooms, imaging and lab space, and 38 beds, including three labor and delivery rooms that can accommodate 900-1,100 births every year.

“We plan on delivering a lot of babies,” Leonard said.

Plans for the hospital went public in 2019. Charlotte-based Atrium Health operates 40 hospitals and hundreds of other care facilities in five states. Leonard has been with Atrium since 2006, serving as an executive in four different hospitals and anticipating needs in the growing communities around Charlotte.

Even so, growth has continued to exceed expectations. Atrium’s free-standing emergency department in Mountain Island Lake, which opened in January 2022, was seeing in just three months the number of patients not expected until its third year.


“We spent a lot of time up front making the hospital able to grow,” Leonard said. “We have scaled it up to be able to meet the needs of this community for decades to come.”

Walkable campus

Being touted as a healthcare campus means not only that the Cornelius hospital property will be walkable and attractive, fitting its Lake Norman setting, but also that it will be a center of health education.

Charlotte was the largest city in the U.S. without a medical school, Leonard said.

Atrium CEO Eugene Woods has overseen “strategic combinations” with Wake Forest University and Advocate Aurora Health, although patient services will retain the Atrium brand.

“Obviously, Wake Forest has an exceptional medical school. Clinically, we are merging some of the best talent around. [With] the buying power, we’ve already saved hundreds of millions of dollars,” Leonard said.

Another strategic move is adding the new facility to the Atrium Health University City license.

“There are a lot of reasons we do this,” Leonard said. “It is a very practical approach from a contract standpoint.”

Economic impact

Although Atrium has not done a comprehensive economic analysis, Leonard expects the hospital will add 282 net new jobs to the region.

He also said that the medical school will have an innovation district called The Pearl with partners such as Siemens and a France-based surgical simulation program.

“The Pearl building is up, the partners have signed up, and it’s going to be a very dynamic part of the Charlotte economy,” Leonard said.

The campus will also have a 72,000 square foot medical office building.

Although Leonard jokingly warned drivers about the dangers of rubbernecking as construction proceeds, the bigger concern is the development’s impact on traffic once construction is completed. The hospital will be adding traffic to an already congested Hwy. 21 at least a year before NCDOT is set to begin widening the road between two chicken joints—Chick-fil-A in Huntersville and Tenders in Cornelius.

And while chickens, roads, and jokes make fine bedfellows, there’s nothing funny about an ambulance stuck in traffic.

Leonard said NCDOT had approved the Bailey Road intersection as a full-load intersection and that Atrium owns property up to Westmoreland, where a full right-turn lane will be completed before the hospital opens. He said Atrium is also “leaning into” development of Exit 27 as a means of alleviating congestion.

As a nonprofit, the hospital is also leaning into community partnerships that promote an inclusive view of health. Atrium launched community gardens and programs to fill the “summer gap” for students who don’t get enough food during school breaks.

“Access to healthcare is fundamental,” Leonard said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we are definitely committed to helping in that work.”

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