lAong with improving the health of Tulsa's northside residents, the new University of Oklahoma Wayman Tisdale Specialty Health Clinic was touted as an economic shot in the arm for the community.
Such developments may spur a need for businesses to sprout up to serve employees, such as "people who have needs for a dry cleaning service, employees who may have a need to take a lunch" nearby, said Lana Turner-Addison, president and chair of the North Tulsa Economic Development Initiative.
"Those are the types of things we hope it spurs," Turner-Addison said. But she downplayed the affect of one single 50,000-square foot structure. "I think that, on its own, it probably wouldn't do what we need to do to spur development for the north Tulsa community," said Turner-Addison, calling the development a complementary piece to other projects in the area near East 36th Street North.
The clinic's main purpose, of course, is to help the sick -- especially in Tulsa North, where a study has shown life expectancies to be significantly shorter than residents of other parts of the city.
But apart from the main mission of any hospital, clinic, or medical plaza, some view the construction and related development as an important community issue.
The city recognized the power of health care development in PlaniTulsa, its comprehensive plan adopted in 2010.
"Health care institutions frequently engage in master planning efforts. These plans often are closely held because they involve sensitive land acquisition issues. However, when an expansion or change is planned, some collaboration and negotiation between the health care institution, the city and neighborhoods is needed," states PlaniTulsa. "Resolving issues between the campus and neighborhoods early, rather than during implementation can greatly improve relations in and around the district."
But when the city moved forward with planning for the Pearl District, the neighborhood just east of downtown, there may have been a communications breakdown.
Hillcrest Medical Center, at the southern edge of the Pearl District boundary, never signed on as a backer of a proposal to adopt form-based code zoning for the neighborhood, a type of building regulation which emphasizes mixed-use development and pedestrian-friendly building designs.
Lou Reynolds, an attorney representing Hillcrest and other businesses, told the Tulsa Metro Area Planning Commission in a Sept. 5 meeting that Hillcrest never understood it would be affected by an earlier, already-adopted city plan.
"Hillcrest was told they weren't in the 6th Street Infill Plan," Reynolds told commissioners, referencing a planning document on which city planners have said they relied upon when coming up with form-based code proposals for the neighborhood. Reynolds said that, regarding the 6th Street Infill Plan, Hillcrest "didn't realize they were in it until we started this form-based code process."
A diverse group of business and property owners have opposed the plan -- at least initial proposals, which have since been whittled down in size considerably -- and the voice of the opposition has been articulated by Reynolds throughout the process, his critique including that the proposed zoning change unnecessarily restricts parking and building height.
If Hillcrest's main concerns had to do possible remodeling or expansion, a quick drive to medical sites in Tulsa shows how frequently health care facilities engage in such major construction projects.
Since July 2010, nine medical sites in Tulsa have filed for construction permits valued at more than $1 million. These sites include Hillcrest Hospital South (near South Mingo Road and East 91st Street), Oklahoma State University Medical Center in downtown, Cancer Treatment Centers at Southwestern Regional Medical Center (East 79th Street near South Mingo Road), and St. John Medical Center near Utica Square.
Other sites are: Oklahoma Oncology (near South Garnett Road and the Broken Arrow Expressway), the Tisdale clinic, the regional medical lab for St. John's (near South Mingo Road and the Broken Arrow Expressway), and the Tulsa Cancer Institute (the Broken Arrow Expressway near the 129th East Avenue exit).
The largest project -- as obvious to anyone driving by on South Yale Avenue -- is at Saint Francis Hospital.
The totality of the work has been a boon to local contractors, said Carl Williams, president and chief executive officer of Associated Builders and Contractors of Oklahoma.
During the recent recession, health care-related construction "did suffer some, but not to the extent that some of your commercial and industrial projects did," Williams said, though he emphasized that the Oklahoma market overall fared much better than other parts of the country.
The boom in health care, however, has been a trend observed statewide by Williams. At a recent banquet awarding excellence in construction, out of slightly more than 40 nominees, seven or eight were health-care related projects, Williams said.
He said the last three years in Tulsa have been filled with strong activity in health-care related construction, though he didn't describe the construction activity as necessarily exceptional.
"It's kind of a continuation of what we've seen in previous years. It may have accelerated the past few years," Williams said. As far as the near future, "I feel like the coming few years will continue to be good as far as the expansions in the health care facilities," Williams said.
No project right now is bigger than the expansion at Saint Francis, which in 2011 announced plans to build a new eight-story patient tower at a cost of about $200 million. Building permits show the main contractor to be Manhattan Construction, which has deep Oklahoma roots and a Tulsa corporate office.
Financial support from the project undoubtedly came from The William K. Warren Foundation, which in 2010 listed assets of $410 million. While the foundation gives to other causes, it established Saint Francis hospital in 1959 and still primarily serves to support the health care system.
Saint Francis has a fan in Councilor G.T. Bynum.
"The amount of money that they are reinvesting in that hospital right now is unbelievable," Bynum said during an August tour of his city council district, pointing out the fancy retaining wall and landscaping that is part of the expansion. "And they do it in such a world-class way, too, which is great, I mean ... you don't have to have a terraced area with beautiful plants and all that for a hospital. They're very focused on doing things the right way, which is great."
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