Binford med center making headway

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The building skeleton planted recently at the corner of 65th Street and Binford Boulevard offers only a hint of the $29 million medical complex Ken Schmidt wants to grow there.

The Indianapolis developer will add four more buildings and a separate pharmacy to the 17 acres of land he bought several years ago. The end result, he said, will be a medical plaza that offers a unique blend of services encompassing dental work, radiology and ambulatory surgery, among other specialties.

"We'd like to have the entire complex be pretty much a one-stop facility," said Schmidt, managing director of Binford Medical Developers LLC.

All of this will be done with no tenants or help provided by any of the major hospital networks in Indianapolis, even though the plaza sits about a five-minute drive from Community Hospital North.

Schmidt's plans to develop the land have already overcome several obstacles since he bought it in 1998, and some think he'll have to surmount several more in order to make a medical complex flourish at that location.

Binford Medical Complex should welcome its first patients sometime this fall, shortly after workers complete the building now under construction.

Binford Imaging & Diagnostic Center LLC and an immediate care center operated by the Bloomington-based Unity Physician Group will anchor that 47,000-square-foot building, which Schmidt said was about 68-percent preleased.

Unity has four other locations in Indianapolis, but the diagnostic center will be operated by MISI LLC, a Virginia-based firm making its market debut.

As that building opens, Schmidt plans to start construction on its neighbor, which is already 34-percent preleased. That one will house a full-service ophthalmologist and a dental clinic, he said.

A year from now, Schmidt wants to be working on the first building's other neighbor, which might house mostly offices to support a surgical center that will occupy the site's fourth building.

A fifth building will house an outpatient therapy and rehabilitation center, and Schmidt wants to plant a pharmacy-he's talking with Walgreen's and another possibility-on an out lot.

Years in development

Schmidt hopes the whole complex will be complete by January 2009, more than a decade after he first bought the land.

Health care was far from his first choice. He initially wanted to build a retail complex around a grocery store, but that fell through. Then he pitched another retail complex with a lot of out lots.

But the Greater Allisonville Community Council nixed that.

"We worked with him and worked with him because there were a lot of ideas for what he wanted to put in there that we did not think were appropriate," said Betty Tuller, a member of the council and a community resident since 1969.

She said traffic was the main concern with the out-lot pitch. The council also thought the Binford corridor was overloaded with strip malls.

"There were a lot of them sitting there with empty spots, so we didn't need another strip mall at all," she said.

Schmidt worked with the council. He listened to their concerns and eventually pitched the medical complex, which Tuller sees as a good use.

She said the council is still concerned about "garish signage" appearing along Binford, but Schmidt has done a decent job keeping them updated on his plans.

Schmidt, who has lived in the area for 27 years, has experience developing projects there. The owner of Double Nickel Development Corp. completed eight office/warehouse projects in the Binford area.

He converted the old Lesher restaurant, where a Speedway gas station currently sits, into office/retail space. He built a 64th Street office warehouse currently occupied by Redirections Sign & Design.

His resume includes no medical plazas, but that doesn't bother him. He said the only difference between medical and office/warehouse space "is the sophistication of the tenant."

Aside from finding the right use for medical complex land, Schmidt also had to prepare it. He hauled in more than 8,000 dump-truck loads of soil to meet state flood plain requirements.

"We had to literally raise the entire site 4-1/2 feet," he said.

Then came the financing search. Schmidt had to find out-of-state financing for the first building, which cost $8 million, and he thinks he might have to do so for some of the others.

"That frosted my cookie right there," said Schmidt, who also invested a "few million" of his own money in the project. "If your name is Duke or Simon or Lauth, you've got an open door to the local lending institution."

Schmidt settled on a medical use a few years ago after a developer suggested it. Community Health Network had started building a stand-alone heart hospital on its nearby north campus. That, combined with surveys Schmidt did of local doctors, told him there would be a need for medical office space.

He also thought convenient access to Interstate 69 and I-465 would make the site attractive. Plus, the 59-yearold Schmidt saw an increased need for medical services. As he noted, "we're all becoming a little older in the neighborhood."

The developer told Community Health Network leaders about his plans and asked if they wanted any space. They declined. However, Schmidt said he'd welcome interest from St. Vincent Health or St. Francis Hospital & Health Centers. He's also talking to a couple of doctor groups.

Demand in question

Schmidt may have to work hard to fill the space, according to some Indianapolis health care consultants.

"I can't name somebody who said that [area is] where I've got to be practicing," said Mike McCaslin, a principal in the health care consultant team at Indianapolis-based Somerset CPAs.

It boils down to market maturity, McCaslin said. The area around 65th and Binford falls short of the growth potential seen in Fishers and Hamilton County, even though 22,000 households are within five minutes of the area.

"I think it's got a finite population in terms of available health care," he said. "I think where people are moving is to places that don't have a finite population."

Duane Sobecki, senior partner with Sobecki and Associates, an Indianapolis- based medical consulting firm, also questioned the need for medical office space. He acknowledged that Schmidt probably studied the need closer than he has, but he also said hospitals have added office space along with their recent care expansions.

"They see the need for it as well," Sobecki said. He also said a medical plaza that has no affiliation with a hospital network or large doctor group was "a little different for this market."

McCaslin agreed. Both said these affiliations help provide a steady stream of patients to the plaza.

However, Schmidt said the immediate care center and radiology service should draw plenty of patients to support offices in that first building.

The immediate care center will operate from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week and will always have a doctor on duty, said Jane Suhr, marketing director for Unity Physician Group.

She said lack of a doctor or hospital affiliation won't harm their business.

"I don't think that a patient goes to a facility caring about an affiliation," she said. "What they want is quality health care. They want convenience. They want excellent customer service, and those are the hallmarks of our business.

"The patient just wants to get well, and we don't see that an affiliation with a hospital is something a patient looks for."

Schmidt plans an official groundbreaking on April 12 for his first building on the complex.

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