Iowa River Landing development moves ahead

 by Gigi Wood 

CORALVILLE – It’s time to make the grade.

Now that the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics has selected a site within the Iowa River Landing District for its new medical facility, the city of Coralville can begin developing the remainder of the area.

UIHC officials decided to locate its proposed $73 million, five-story, 150,000-square-foot medical facility on the north side of Ninth Street near the Coralville Marriott. They discussed the plan with the Board of Regents at its meeting Feb. 3 and will likely ask for approval of the plan at the regents’ April meeting.

The decision will now allow other development of the Iowa River Landing District to begin. Coralville leaders were waiting for UIHC to make its final site planning decisions before the city could proceed with plans for the area at the southeast corner of Interstate 80 and First Avenue. The district includes the Marriott and the city has been buying up lots in the area for years for redevelopment.

“It’s a great sign and this will enable us to move forward on a lot of different fronts and we’ll be able to make the decisions as to what areas we’re going to grade, what projects we’re going to move forward with, so it’s really a major crossing point for us,” said Kelly Hayworth, Coralville’s city administrator.

Coralville is working with OliverMcMillan, a San Diego-based developer, on attracting commercial development, such as restaurants, retailers and tourist attractions to the district. National retailers were waiting on UIHC’s decision, as well, before selecting their own sites.

“I think those are things we’ll try to work on finalizing over the next month so that one of the big things that we have to decide is how we’re going to grade the whole site, how much of it, all those kinds of things,” he said. “So as soon as that can be decided, we’ll be able to get people better answers.”

Next, the city will begin taking bids on First Avenue bridge improvement work and then will make preparations to upgrade a wetlands area adjacent to the Marriott.

Some community members have expressed criticism about UIHC’s new facility, saying the hospital is unnecessarily spending money when it has recently laid off workers. Ken Kates, UIHC’s CEO and associate vice president said the new outpatient center is necessary.

“One reason is how constrained we are with every passing year,” he said. “Our clinic visits continue to grow, 4 (to) 4 1/2 percent each year, and this is a real challenge for us because we will continue to grow and we just can’t handle that on this site. One of the largest dissatisfiers of patients and their families is getting here and having to park and to find their way.”

Despite layoffs and cost-reduction plans at the main hospital, officials decided the new facility was critical to handle the increase in patient volume and parking issues.

“When we talk about cost reductions, we’ve been very successful in reallocating our workforce to the areas with the greatest need,” he said. “We’re operating with fewer FTEs (full-time employees) than we did a year ago. When we look at layoffs and so forth, and one layoff is too many. When you look at FTEs, only 11 were not placed in a new position.”

Capital-plan funding will likely pay for the new facility, although UIHC officials are still working out those details to present to the regents in April.

The hospital encompasses 3.2 million square feet along three-and-a-half city blocks. So many visitors lose their way in the building, the hospital recently began a volunteer wayfinding service.

“We absolutely need to have additional capacity to handle these additional patients,” Mr. Kates said.

Transferring portions of UIHC’s outpatient clinics to the Coralville facility will allow the hospital to expand some of its inpatient programs.

“We’ve got to be able to move people to private rooms; the bulk of our rooms now are semi-private and that’s a major dissastifier for patients and there are implications related to patient safety,” he said.

UIHC officials are working on plans for backfilling the main hospital once the clinics are moved to the new facility.

“When we have the opportunity to move the ambulatory programs off-site it will allow us to reconfigure what programs make the most sense to the reconfiguration so we won’t have the patients traversing the whole three-and-a-half blocks,” Mr. Kates said.

Patient satisfaction is core to the hospital’s mission, Mr. Kates said.

“We think we can provide the highest-quality, safest patient care with spectacular service excellence, and we actually believe we need to do that,” he said. “And in many areas we do it very well every day and in other areas we have real challenges.”

The hospital completed facility master plans and each study concluded UIHC needs additional ambulatory service facilities. Available parking will also be a key component to the new facility. UIHC’s main hospital parking ramps often peak at above 85 percent capacity, the industry benchmark, and are often closed.

The IRL district location stood out to UIHC officials and became the only spot actively pursued for the new facility.

“We looked at a variety of sites and hands down the Coralville location is the best. It’s easily accessed off of I-80, it’s close to the main campus, it will be part of a vibrant development there,” he said.

The hospital is working on the shift schedules for those working at the clinic and the hospital. Shifts will be worked out for convenience; for example, some physicians will schedule appointments at the new facility on one or two days a week, not everyday.

Construction will likely begin this year with completion expected in late 2012.