Meadville Tribune

December 1, 2012

Pulse is strong on Vernon Place medical development

By Konstantine Fekos
Meadville Tribune

VERNON TOWNSHIP — Major medical development Vernon Place — expected to offer Meadville Medical Center’s outpatient services and more at the former Meadville Mall and present Kmart properties on Route 322 in Vernon Township — is progressing on time, much to the excitement of township supervisors and county developers.

The project promises to benefit not just Vernon Township but the businesses in nearby communities as well, such as the City of Meadville.

Vernon Township engineer and MMC representative developer Ashley Porter released the latest designs and maps, detailing the projected location of the planned 22-building facility, to the Crawford County Planning Commission, impressing upon its members the potential magnitude of the development.

“From a Meadville Medical and community perspective, this could be transformational for the community,” he said, confident that Vernon Place and the nearby Yolanda G. Barco Oncology Institute will draw thousands of visitors from more than 70 zip codes, making Meadville just a mile away from increased commerce.

“The City of Meadville has its character and niche, but you can’t do this (building project) downtown,” Porter continued. “Meadville needs to capitalize on this.”

MMC administrators purchased approximately 49 acres for more than $3 million in 2009 before announcing plans to expand and perhaps combine outpatient and fitness services this fall in hopes of increased affordability and job creation, all packaged in a village-like setting.

“From comprehensive medical care that includes both exercise and nutrition to multifaceted diagnostic and rehabilitation services, Vernon Place is certain to extend the highest quality health care to those we are privileged to serve,” Anne White, director of MMC’s Facilities Development Committee, said in a news release.

Planning commissioners recently agreed overall with the project’s current designs, which border areas along routes 322 and 19 as well as the adjacent wetlands.

“Most of the construction will occur on the currently paved areas (of the former mall site),” said Porter, mentioning potential yet minimized wetland impact later on in the project.

Development drawings illustrate boulevards and marginal access roads, prompting the facility’s ingress and egress points to form possible intersections with those of the Oncology Institute and The Movies at Meadville.

The planning commission offered MMC developers recommended comments, including review of different uses of proposed buildings and parking requirements, signage for the project’s roadways and access points, loading docks or parking spaces for ambulatory or public transit, and requests for developers to submit architectural renderings of proposed buildings throughout various phases.

“This is a good opportunity for Vernon Township and Meadville,” said Arlene Rodriguez, assistant planning director for the planning commission.



Three phases, 10 years

While some aspects of the estimated 10-year project will take longer than others to approve or construct, highway entry corridors for instance, developers have broken it down into three phases, which include eight two-story buildings, stormwater management facilities, wetland mitigation and signalized intersections.

“Phase 1 is currently under design,” said Porter. “We could have approvals as early as next year. We are well on track for getting permits.”

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Vernon Township supervisors are on board to handle approvals, the latter having alluded to the project’s expansiveness over the past few months by announcing major plans.

“This may be one of the biggest developments the township has seen in years,” said Bob Davis, Vernon’s supervisor chairman.

“It’s a pretty aggressive build for this kind of site,” echoed Porter. “I think this is the most exciting development Vernon Township and Meadville have had in a long time.”

MMC will have the option of filling market holes with national stores and restaurants currently nonexistent in the area, Porter added, as well as the opportunity to seek out specialized facilities which will draw people to the area.

“I’m not just talking about putting in a Starbucks,” he said, estimating either a 50-50 or 40-60 split between medical and commercial offices in the same building as well as the village at large. “Spaces can be filled with banks and retail offices.”

Much of the construction near  Route 322 depends on Kmart vacating the property, possibly by 2018. Porter addressed the intentional exclusion of the Kmart building from phase design drawings, saying he has communicated with the store’s parent company.

“Sears Holdings Corp. (Kmart owner) has been notified of our plans,” said Porter, mentioning the company intends not to renew its lease, but will make no official decision or announcement for another three to four years, when its lease approaches renewal. “We offered to help them relocate to stay in the area.”



Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kfekos@meadvilletribune.com.