Nobody seems to have any money these days—including hospitals. But one thing hospitals do have is hundreds—or often thousands—of employees who need places to live, shop, eat, play and relax. A growing number of cities are looking to leverage their healthcare employee base as the foundation of economic redevelopment projects.
“It’s a pretty new concept, with cities being creative and looking at healthcare as an economic driver,” says Paris Rutherford, president of Icon Partners, a Dallas-based real estate development company. “They’re saying: ‘Here’s a big, stable employer, and we can build on that.’ ”Technically, medical districts are not a new concept. Chicago formed its in 1941 and Houston’s dates back to 1945, but the concept isre-emerging as a method for revitalizing older urban neighborhoods in decline. Cities that have established districts more recently include Springfield, Ill.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Oklahoma City.
For some, development and redevelopment involves formal plans that link neighborhoods and medical institutions as well as dedicating property for common uses such as parking shared between facilities. Elsewhere, multiple projects are springing up somewhat organically with no formal relationship, but with mutual support nonetheless. Also in the mix are isolated medical campuses where planners are hoping to get the employees who work there interested in the various communities in their employer’s neighborhood.