Saturday, August 04, 2001

Medical complex takes shape


$100M-plus development planned for West Chester

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WEST CHESTER TWP. — Construction is to start this month on a $12 million medical office that would be the first piece of a 75-acre, $100 million-plus medical and commercial development along Interstate 75 and Cox Road.

        Developers for the project, dubbed “University Pointe,” made a site plan and several artist's conceptions public on Friday.

        The project is a response to the demand for medical services from West Chester and other fast-growing communities between Dayton and Cincinnati, where residents generally have to travel farther than other suburbanites to reach hospital and specialty care.

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        The venture also reflects the rapid changes in medical technology that have made it possible to provide highly sophisticated care without building a traditional hospital.

        “Hospitals, medical groups, even cities as we know them are obsolete,” said Dr. Randy Hillard, chief executive of UC Physicians, the leading medical partner in the project.

        ""As technology advances, there's a need for flexible nontraditional spaces to provide the services that will evolve.”

        The University Pointe project, to be developed in partnership with Miller-Valentine Group, will start with an 80,000-square-foot building to house a diagnostic center and offices for specialists from UC Physicians, a group of about 450 doctors affiliated with the University of Cincinnati.

        But plans go far beyond that.

        The site plan shows 19 buildings that would be built within seven to 10 years. They include a surgical center, a 20-bed short-stay center, senior housing, pediatric services, a dialysis center, a fitness center and a medical research building. Among the most speculative features: room for a 100-bed hospital.

        Jack Goodwin, development partner with Miller-Valentine Group, said that in addition to medical services, the project could include:

        • A hotel and conference center;

        • As many as two commercial office buildings;

        • Several mixed-use buildings that could house restaurants, small offices and shops.

        The first medical office would be complete by September 2002. Overall, the project would include more than 700,000 square feet of buildings that would likely cost at least $100 million to build, developers said.

        Several aspects of the project reflect what Dr. Hillard describes as a “redefinition” of medical care.

        Unlike most ambulatory surgery centers — where patients go home the same day from relatively simple operations — this project calls for a short-stay center that could hold patients for three or four days. That's because so many surgical procedures, even sophisticated cardiac and neurosurgical work, are moving toward minimally invasive techniques that make weeklong hospital stays a thing of the past.

        In addition to the short-stay center, the hotel could house out-of-town families coming in for specialty care or same-day surgery. Even the planned senior housing would be connected closely to the planned medical services, be it outpatient cancer care or possible house calls from nearby specialists.

        The site plan includes a building described as a 100-bed hospital, but developers said there have been no solid decisions about that concept.

        Building a hospital depends in part on market demand and competition. For example, Middletown Regional Hospital is planning to move to a new site several miles north of University Pointe.

        That aspect of the project also depends on the changing meaning of the word “hospital.” Even doctors aren't willing to forecast the technical advances in the next five to 10 years that could change how medical care will be provided, Dr. Hillard said.

        The real point of showing a 100-bed hospital was to demonstrate that the 75-acre campus has the space to build whatever facilities might be needed a decade from now.
       

More road improvements
        As University Pointe, a retail project and a recreation complex develop along Cox Road, significant roadwork likely will be needed to handle the traffic.

        Plans for the next year call for widening Cox Road to five lanes (from two lanes) between Tylersville Road and north of the University Pointe site, said Andy Kuchta, Butler County economic development director.

        Eventually, the county hopes to win funding to extend the Michael A. Fox Highway interchange so that it crosses I-75 to connect with Cox Road, and to widen Cox Road as far north as Hamilton-Mason Road.

        As its suburban population grows, Greater Cincinnati has witnessed a northward shift of medical services.

        Since 1997, Jewish Hospital in Avondale closed while Jewish Hospital in Kenwood expanded. Bethesda Oak Hospital in Avondale also closed while Bethesda North has begun plans to become a high-level trauma center.

        The University Pointe project does not mean that UC doctors are abandoning their long history of providing care to inner-city people, Dr. Hillard says.

        First, the UC Physicians group hopes to double its clinical service volume in the next seven years, so this project is more of an expansion than a move.

        Also, income generated at University Pointe is needed to support doctors who also serve indigent populations, Dr. Hillard said.

       



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