Saturday, September 28, 2002

Middletown economy on win streak

Hospital decision to stay follows one by Fenwick

By Michael D. Clark,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIDDLETOWN — There are increasing signs that this city is turning around its fortunes — a trend that was capped by Middletown Regional Hospital's decision to build its new facility within city limits.

        The city's winning streak also includes an earlier pact to keep Fenwick High School when it builds its own new facility; passage of improved housing standards, and progress on a reconfigured downtown — all designed to boost economic vitality.

        “We are doing all right. We have been able to turn some perceptions around that may have clouded our city in the last decade,” said Mayor David Schiavone, who since becoming mayor this year has said that keeping the hospital — the city's second-largest employer with about 1,400 workers — was his administration's top priority.

        On Thursday, hospital leaders announced they intend to rebuild in the city — on Ohio 122 east of Interstate 75 — after an unsuccessful 1 -year effort to build community support for one of two sites further south at Greentree Road.

        The board of directors' resolution hinges on coming up with an economic development agreement in the next 60 days that will spell out who pays for infrastructure such as improvements to the I-75 exit.

        Mr. Schiavone said no meeting is scheduled yet but he is “very optimistic” about negotiations between Middletown and the hospital.

        “Getting this development plan together is now our main goal, then we start moving toward turning dirt,” he said of the hospital's projected opening in 2007.

        Middletown and Fenwick High School officials earlier overcame a legal challenge and will keep the Catholic school as part of Middletown when it moves to a new complex near the same I-75 interchange — about a mile east of the new hospital's proposed site. In August, the city council approved tougher housing standards to attract higher-income families to the city that straddles the Butler and Warren county border.

        In December an 18-month, $13 million renovation of the former City Centre Mall should be completed, transforming the troubled enclosed mall into restored city streets — Central and Broad streets — with open-air retailing, business offices and residential housing in the depressed central city.

        “By next spring we should have some good things going on downtown too, and we will continue to foster good things as development occurs downtown and on our east end,” Mr. Schiavone said.

        Douglas McNeill, president and CEO of Middletown Regional Health System, said hospital officials share an understanding with city officials about the importance of maintaining and improving the vitality of Middletown.

        The decision to build a new hospital within the city limits “will ensure not only Middletown Regional Hospital's financial viability but also contribute to the overall vitality of both Middletown and the surrounding region. We also will be an integral part of creating a new front door to the city, spurring additional growth in the area,” Mr. McNeill said in a statement.

        Warren County Commissioner Mike Kilburn said he was pleased with the announcement that would give Warren its first full-service hospital. He sees economic and health benefits, and convenience, for residents from communities such as Springboro, Franklin and Carlisle, who previously had to maneuver through Middletown's residential streets to reach the hospital.

        “The response time to the hospital should be better and it should open up more employment opportunities for young professionals,” said Mr. Kilburn.

        The current hospital is on 26 acres in a residential section of the city, but the new medical facility would sit on 225 acres and be surrounded by a health and technology campus that eventually would employ an estimated 1,125 workers.


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