Proposed medical mall amplifies business potential

by Tim Kenyon

CEDAR RAPIDS – Build it and more will come. That’s the big- picture view of Priority One economic group President Mark Seckman regarding the Physicians Clinic of Iowa’s plan to build an all-in-one medical mall in the recently formalized medical district in downtown Cedar Rapids.

“Now you have a third anchor (besides the hospital book ends of St. Luke’s Hospital and Mercy Medical Center) that should create additional medical business opportunities,” Mr. Seckman said. “What this could potentially do when you look at economic development is you need a story to tell and this would be a better story. A medical district with three major anchors may set Cedar Rapids apart from other communities. It’s a much more competitive position.”

PCI’s concept outlines an 180,000- to 200,000-square-foot ambulatory care facility facing 10th Street SE on Second Avenue that would consolidate its five PCI medical office buildings and ancillary services into a single facility. Cost is estimated at $44 million, including about $8 million for a parking ramp.

The building would house clinics and specialty centers, multidisciplinary clinics, a diagnostic laboratory, an imaging center, diagnostic testing services, a pharmacy, a patient and community education center and health-care screening. The facility will also house health-care-related tenants and a café.

The organization is asking the city council to close Second Avenue between 10th and 12th streets.

PCI has an experienced hand in promoting the project to the community and specifically the city council for support. President and CEO Mike Sundall went through a similar process in his last job at Huntington, W. Va.

“We retrofitted a former Walmart to be a medical mall,” said Mr. Sundall, who has been in charge at PCI for two years.

It became a great recruiting tool, he said.

A bigger benefit from the mall concept is improved communications, he said.

“The future of health care, especially with the pending reform effects, is all about increased collaboration,” Mr. Sundall said.

Convenience will increase dramatically for patients, he said. Instead of driving and walking to multiple buildings in a cluttered street layout when they are referred to another provider, it will be short stroll and easier task to find another office or service department.

Mr. Seckman forecasts increased interest in the district from related businesses, particularly, medical software and engineering and designers of medical equipment.

That would also spark general commercial and retail growth in the area, possibly another reason to attract a second hotel downtown, he said. Such a project is one of the touted potential benefits with the pending $67 million U.S. Cellular Center improvement and convention space addition.

BBL of Albany, N.Y., has been chosen to design and plan PCI’s medical facility and manage its construction. Cedar Rapids area contractors will bid for the project.     

PCI plans to add up to 20 new providers over the next three to seven years, Mr. Sundall said.

The organization’s request to close Second Avenue is raising concerns and questions.

“It’s an exciting project and I’m very optimistic, but you have to be thick-skinned in a process such as this one,” he said.

One view is that the change would reduce traffic.

Mayor Ron Corbett said city councilors and staff are eager to see a traffic study under way that’s expected to be ready for review in July.

Any changes on Second Avenue will influence traffic on nearby streets, namely the First and Third Avenues, which run parallel to it.

“There are a lot of issues and we need to figure out if there will be a minor or major affect on First Avenue,” Mr. Corbett said.

Potential costs for multiple rerouting system scenarios will be looked over closely, he added.  

Mr. Sundall contends the rearranged traffic flow would be better for downtown and patients will benefit from close parking proximity.

An economic analysis is being pieced together by PCI, Priority One and the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, he said. It should be ready to share with the public in June, he said.

Keeping 350 jobs downtown is one advantage he shares about the project’s economic impact.

PCI previously eyed a spot in Hiawatha, but reconsidered when Cedar Rapids business and government leaders asked the organization to stay downtown.  

The organization wants to finalize site selection in August, he said. It would like to start construction in 2011 and open the new facility hopefully in January 2013, Mr. Sundall said.

He said patient care costs will not be affected by the new building.
“We are paid in a fixed-payment system through third-party payers,” he added.

Monitoring BBL will be a committee of PCI providers.

The committee will work with the designer to provide suggestions for patient flow and way-finding and recommend conceptual and final building design.