Mesa renews efforts to lure colleges, health care downtown - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa renews efforts to lure colleges, health care downtown

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Posted: Friday, September 3, 2010 6:00 am | Updated: 11:34 am, Sat Sep 11, 2010.

Mesa is ramping up its campaign to attract colleges to its downtown, as well as hospitals and clinics that could have a regional or even global appeal.

City leaders are reviewing new consultant reports that outline what kind of colleges and health-care organizations are realistic fits for downtown and how to recruit them. The consultants’ work showed a demand for both uses – but the studies also outlined some substantial hurdles.

Plans to get a hospital and a college have fallen through in the past, City Council members said Thursday while reviewing recommendations for the first time. And some health-care providers have turned to Phoenix instead because there’s not enough regional support to attract new hospitals, Mayor Scott Smith said.

“The natural tendency is to pass us over,” Smith said. “I’m not whining. I’m just stating fact.”

In landing a college or medical facility, Smith said the city has to do more than just market the 60 acres owned by the city. Mesa must sell the urban experience, the Mesa Arts Center and the light-rail line set to reach downtown in 2016, he said. Mesa is aiming to place health-care facilities on 25 acres it owns at the southwest corner of Mesa and University drives.

A health-care study explored whether Mesa could attract a Level I trauma center, which treats the most severe injuries. The study concluded the Valley’s five Level I centers are adequate, even if they aren’t in the best places. The East Valley does not have a Level I center, leaving the Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix and Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn as the closest Level I destinations.

Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh questioned the findings, saying he is convinced the demand for a Level I trauma center was established a decade ago.

“If I’m involved in a major motor vehicle accident with serious injuries, I have to play a craps shoot to figure out whether some one can get me to Scottsdale or Maricopa in time,” Kavanaugh said. “Air Evac is not always the optimal mode of transport.”

Cost is a major obstacle, at $1 million per bed to construct a hospital. Level I trauma centers are extremely expensive to operate as well.

Consultants ESI Corp. and NGN Consulting found Mesa is well served by the health care industry, but said the city should work with existing operators to expand their missions.

The federal health-care reform will boost demand for wellness and fitness centers that combine upscale fitness clubs with world-class medical expertise. Local provider Abrazo Health Care is extremely interested in this concept, the report found.

Also, Mesa could likely find ties to M.D. Anderson, a cancer treatment center set to open in late 2011. Its campus is in Gilbert, but it will draw patients from around the world.

The study also advised Mesa to help expand Banner’s simulation training center and its Cardon Children’s Hospital.

A separate report concluded Mesa needs more higher education options, whether in the form of public, private or faith-based operations. The East Valley’s residents are more likely to hold college degrees than on a national level, which makes their children more likely to enroll in college.

“We believe that this is a great opportunity for the city of Mesa,” said John Kelly, a principal with Triadvocates.

Attempts to get a college have been hurt by several factors, including the economy, some colleges viewing Arizona State University as an 800-pound gorilla in the market and the fact that colleges aren’t experts in looking for new locations, officials said.

Several council members agreed Mesa should court faith-based institutions, especially Mormon and Catholic ones. Smith noted Catholics, despite Mesa’s image as a Mormon enclave, outnumber that faith by 2-to-1. Councilman Alex Finter said the city should send a delegation to Notre Dame in Indiana and ask what it would take for the Catholic university to open a Mesa campus.

Mesa has tried to attract colleges and is speaking with some now. The consultant’s report will help Mesa launch a more targeted effort for the first time, Smith said.

Councilwoman Dina Higgins said friends of her children are leaving Arizona for college because they don’t want to be on a massive campus like ASU, preferring a college with just a few thousand students. More Valley teens would stay in town for college if they had more options, she said.

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