On Wednesday, builders were busy at the former Mercy Hospital site in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

After more than 80 years as a place of birth, death and healing, the former campus of Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland will soon have a different title: home.

The seven-story brick building and its grounds in Portland’s West End will be the site of 260 new apartments across the pricing spectrum, from affordable units to luxury townhouses. In tribute to the generations of nurses who served within its halls, the building itself will be known as the Nightingale, after nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale.

The conversion of a former hospital to housing is a new type of project for the two Portland-based developers, Redfern Properties and NewHeight Group, who have teamed up as NewHeight Redfern.

With history at stake, they’re not taking the assignment lightly. The building at 144 State St. dates to 1941, and Mercy continued to treat patients there until consolidating services on its Fore River Parkway campus last year. The former site still holds a lot of meaning for the community.

Jonathan Culley of Redfern and Erin Cooperrider of NewHeight said they’ve heard from countless people whose children were born at the old hospital, whose loved ones died there, whose spouses worked there. Two of Culley’s daughters were born at Mercy.

Almost everyone has a connection,” he said. 


The building is being converted to 165 studio and one-bedroom apartments, with rents ranging from $1,500 to $2,800 per month. Of those apartments, 17 are designated as workforce housing and are set aside for those earning 100% or less of the area median income. According to MaineHousing, the median income in Portland is $82,810. For 2023, the 100% AMI rents are $2,071 for a one-bedroom and $1,775 for a studio. 

The first 103 apartments will be listed for pre-leasing on Thursday, with a target move-in date in October. The remaining 62 will be ready in January. 


The $65 million Nightingale project, financed in part by historic tax credits, includes spaces used far differently than they were decades ago.

The Nightingale will feature a fitness and yoga center, a library and billiards room, a rooftop deck, a coworking space and a pet spa. At the ground level, NewHeight Redfern is constructing four retail spaces. One has already been claimed by Chocolats Passion, a chocolate shop that has outgrown its current Brackett Street location.

Sarah Levine, lead chocolatier, said the new space will be more than double the size of the shop and will allow the business to staff up and add more products to “keep up with the demand we have so happily been handed.”


The parking will be hugely beneficial, she said, as will the location beneath 165 apartments, whose residents might become customers. 

Mercy Hospital’s former site on State Street in Portland is shown in 2020, before redevelopment of the site got underway. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Next door, in another of the retail spaces, Culley hopes to see a bakery and cafe, where people can grab a pastry and coffee to enjoy outside on the woonerf – or “living street.” 

After the isolation of the pandemic, people are lonely, Redfern has heard from tenants at other properties. With this project, Culley wanted the building to include amenities that foster connection.

One feature is especially unusual. In the basement, there’s a 45,000-square-foot “dark space” that contained the hospital’s kitchen, phlebotomy lab and morgue. The space wasn’t usable for apartments, Culley said. So instead, it will become a self-storage facility, with up to 400 units for both tenants and the public.


Also on the 3.5-acre site, Community Housing of Maine and Portland Housing Development are constructing two affordable-unit buildings, one geared for families and one for seniors. 


Bree LaCasse, development director for Community Housing of Maine, said the two projects will add nearly 100 income-restricted apartments to the city, helping to alleviate its severe rental housing shortage. 

“The projects are located in a walkable city neighborhood and create opportunities for older Mainers to affordably age in place and for members of the Portland workforce to live and work in the city,” she said in an email. 

Winter Landing will include 52 one-bedroom units for adults 62 years old and over. Equinox, at the corner of Spring and Winter streets, will include 43 units – six studios, 15 one-bedrooms, 13 two-bedrooms and nine three-bedroom units. 

Ali Oliva muds the sheetrock in the hallway of the Mercy Hospital redevelopment project in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The apartments will be available to people making below 50% and 60% of the area median income, or $41,450 and $49,740, respectively. According to MaineHousing, at that AMI, rents range from $1,036 a month for a studio to $1,850 a month for a three-bedroom. 

Construction started this spring and the buildings are expected to be completed in late summer and early fall of 2024. 

At the other end of the affordability spectrum, but just across the street, NewHeight Redfern is building nine luxury townhouses, with prices starting at $1.8 million. Six of the houses have already sold. The homes are expected to be completed next summer. 


Reconstruction at the hospital site included demolition last year of some space that was added in the 1980s. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Mercy Hospital officials said previously that NewHeight Redfern was selected for the project because of the developers’ experience working on the peninsula and a track record of community engagement.

“We had some proposals that perhaps would have given us a higher price, but we weren’t comfortable with what some of the development would have looked like,” Mercy CEO Charlie Therrien said in 2020. “This was the sweet spot between a very good sales price and the comfort level about what’s going to be developed here.”


The 82-year-old State Street building is considered relatively young for historic tax credits, Culley said. Because of this, and its utilitarian past as a hospital, many parts of the structure weren’t worth preserving. But some important elements will stay. 

“We want it to honor the past but not feel like people are living in a hospital,” he said. 

One apartment will feature the vaulted ceiling of the hospital chapel. Two units will include parts of the tall, arched chapel windows, which were previously infilled with bricks. 


Doorways have been walled in, but have faux door fronts to preserve the old layout of the building. Original stained-glass windowpanes will be on display in the lobby. 

But it’s the columns that really stand out. 

Jonathan Culley of Redfern Properties talks about the addition of housing inside the kitchen of a new apartment at the former Mercy Hospital building. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Inside the hospital’s original entrance, two seemingly wooden columns flank the lobby. Other columns also come up through portions of a few apartment units. 

But according to Cooperrider, the wooden columns actually aren’t wood at all. They’re made of concrete and covered in a wood-like veneer. 

“Our architectural historian had never seen that before,” she said. 

The original hospital building has great bones, Culley said. So the developers preserved most of the 1940s structure but demolished 50,000 square feet of a 1980s addition that housed the emergency, radiology and surgical departments.


The building left a “great shell” to build the 165 residential units, which Culley said will be the most stylized project his firm has done.


The construction of the State Street hospital in 1941 allowed a religious order, the Sisters of Mercy, to expand vitally needed health care services in Portland. The Sisters of Mercy had been using a building at Congress and State streets as a 25-bed hospital since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

When the new, 150-bed facility opened in 1943, Mercy Hospital was hailed as one of the most advanced in northern New England, according to the Maine Historical Society. 

The entrance to the State Street hospital building is shown in 2020, before reconstruction began. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The emergency department, as well as a “revolutionary telephone system” and pneumatic tubes for messages and prescriptions, were added as part of an expansion in 1951. The entire facility was renovated in the 1980s.

In 2013, Mercy Hospital was acquired by Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems – now Northern Light Health – and in 2014 announced plans to move to the Fore River campus.

The reuse of the State Street campus is part of a growing national trend in housing. Increasingly, communities see that it makes sense to give old hospitals new residential life. They’re often in city centers and near public transportation, and the building layouts can be ideal for divvying up into apartments. 

But while other historic Maine buildings – usually former schools – have become housing, the conversion of a hospital is somewhat of a novelty. Across the state, only one other hospital-to-housing project appears to have broken ground. In Waterville, developers are working to turn the former Seton Hospital into 67 apartments.

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