Prospect Park sees plans for Motley-area clinic

Eye on U, October 2008

Members of the Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association zoning committee got their first look in September at plans for a new ambulatory care clinic that will soon occupy an entire city block of land in the neighborhood’s Motley District.

Plans for the $200 million state-of-the-art ambulatory care center — to be built at the site of a current surface-level University contract parking lot at the northeast corner of Fulton and Ontario streets southeast — were presented by several University and Fairview Health Services representatives at the Sept. 15 zoning meeting.

The outpatient facility — encompassing clinical, research and teaching space — would replace several of the clinics on the East and West Banks that Fairview currently operates, said Orlyn Miller, director of the University’s Capital Planning and Project Management.

Fairview will build the project on University-owned land. Miller said the construction of the facility wouldn’t begin any sooner than May 2009 because the University needs the land to satisfy parking demand until at least that time, due to the parking that was lost during TCF Bank Stadium construction. Much of that parking is expected to be replaced when the stadium is completed. Once built, the clinic would have its own underground parking garage and could also rely on the University’s Oak Street ramp nearby for additional space.

The University has also started purchasing individual lots on the block at the northwest corner of Fulton and Ontario streets southeast, directly across the street from the future Fairview clinic, “as they become available,” Miller said. While the University has no specific plans for the property at this time, Miller said eventually acquiring the rest of that block — the University currently owns eight of the fifteen properties there — “fits within the University’s development realm” in the long-term.

There is talk that the ambulatory clinic might one day expand westward onto that block, but that would be a ways off, according to Miller. “They’ve not even built the first one, so it’s a little premature to talk about expansion,” he said.

If the need did come up in the future, and the University had a firm proposal for a public use of the block it is currently acquiring little by little, the U has not ruled out the possibility of exercising eminent domain. “It’s entirely possible that we find ourselves in that position at some day, some time,” Miller said.

PPERRIA President Dick Poppele who attended the September zoning meeting, was disappointed that a project of this cost magnitude was presented to the neighborhood so late in the planning process. “These are projects that are years in the making,” he said. “It would have been courteous, I think, if they would have come to us much sooner.”

The fact that the project was not discussed with neighbors early on is especially “disconcerting, in view of the University [District Partnership] Alliance,” (the partnership between the University and the neighborhoods in the University District), Poppele added.

Poppele admits he was not entirely blindsided by the project; he was, after all, the one who asked for more detail about the Fairview clinic plans from the University’s Community Relations Director, Jan Morlock, which eventually led to the presentation by Fairview and University. However, other than knowing there were plans for an ambulatory clinic, Poppele lacked considerable details until the September meeting. He said despite being frustrated that information was presented to the neighborhood at such a late stage, he still appreciates that the University and Fairview sent representatives at all.

Commenting about the plans discussed at that meeting, Poppele said it appears as if Fulton Street Southeast might eventually become the main artery into the University’s East Bank health sciences area, especially with the likelihood of light rail transit on Washington Avenue in the future. Management of parking and traffic issues as a result of the new clinic appears to be well-planned, Poppele said, and despite the project’s hefty pricetag, the facility’s physical size does not seem particularly large in scale, he said.

Morlock, who attended the meeting on the University’s behalf, along with Miller, characterized neighbors’ feedback about clinic itself as generally positive, but said some Prospect Park residents at the meeting were concerned about the University’s long-term vision for growth.

“My sense [from the Sept. 15 meeting] was that people really understand the need for improved patient clinics,” Morlock said. “As I see it, the thing we need to address with PPERRIA has more to do with master planning than it does with this particular facility.”

The University is currently in the process of updating its master plan, and the need for a bigger, long-term picture of University development is being addressed, not just in Prospect Park, but in the entire University District, Morlock said.

Poppele said he thinks the real estate market in the Motley District has already suffered because of anxiety over possible University expansion. He said he would like to see the University take more of an interest in Motley by being both upfront and thoughtful about its plans for growth.

last revised: November 12, 2008