BY DIRK PERREFORT
Hearst Connecticut Media
The “medical mile” is coming to town.
Much as residents in the Danbury area go to Sand Pit Road for their medical needs, Newtown economic development officials hope residents will also one day travel to Mount Pleasant Road, which straddles the Bethel border along Interstate 84 in the western side of town.
Already, more than 80,000 square feet of medical space is either in the pipeline for the corridor or is soon to be constructed. That’s in addition to age-restricted housing units and assisted-living facilities also under development in the corridor, much of it by Westport-based Maplewood and its real estate arm, Hunter Gregory.
“A lot of health care networks are moving their non-critical-care services directly into the community,” said Greg Smith, a Newtown native and founder of Maplewood. “We see our business model as a bolt-on to that by providing the real estate they need. Not only are we riding that wave, but we are getting out in front of it.”
Because of changes in the health care system, more medical groups are looking to locate their services in community settings instead of hospitals. Changes to government reimbursement models for programs like Medicaid will require health systems to manage an entire population — not just those who show up for services. Rather than individual procedures, reimbursements will be based on quality of care and the outcomes of the services provided.
“Bringing health care to the people is the way of the world these days,” Smith said. “It’s really a fundamental shift in the way hospitals, physicians and clinics will deliver care.”
Smith has completed a 26,000-square-foot medical facility in the corridor that has been partially leased to DaVita Dialysis and has interest from other tenants, as well, for the remainder of the space. He also has plans for a 30,000-square-foot building nearby that’s been approved by land-use officials.
Smith said the first floor of that building is already leased to a medical group from the region; though he declined to name it, he said it would be a major draw to the area. In Bethel, Smith also recently purchased a nearly 10-acre parcel from the Catholic Church that he plans to develop into housing along with a 21,000-square-foot medical building.
“We also have a few other things in the corridor that we are working on that will continue to build on the medical mile branding,” he said.
The idea to create the brand for the region came from Betsy Paynter, the town’s economic development coordinator.
Besides the demand for medical services, Paynter said the area is ripe for development because of a new public sewer line approved for the area.
“Medical facilities often have heavier water usage requirements than a traditional commercial building,” she said. “Now that we have sewers coming to the area, it makes it that much more attractive for medical uses.”
Paynter noted that while there is an abundance of services in nearby cities including Danbury and Waterbury, there is a need for more medical facilities nearby.
“As medical systems look to provide more and more community-based services, Newtown is both a central location for these services and the corridor has direct access to Interstate 84 that serves the entire region,” she said.
Madeline Bunt, a member of the Stony Hill Four Corners Association, said she has a friend from Southbury who regularly travels to Danbury for dialysis.
“Once the DaVita facility opens, he’s already said he’ll be going to Newtown instead,” she said. “It will be a lot closer and more convenient for him.”
Bunt said the association, which is composed of community and business leaders along the Stony Hill/Mount Pleasant corridor, is not only supportive but also excited about the ongoing development and future potential.
“We’ve been calling it the ‘Golden Mile’ because of all the opportunities that are there,” she said.
Smith said he’s far from done developing the corridor, and has his sights on other parcels along the strip for additional developments.
“This is only the beginning of the story,” said Todd Payne, president and CEO of Goodfellow Real Estate.
He added that there has been a tremendous amount of interest in the corridor. Businesses that have expressed an interest for the buildings already constructed or in the planning stages, he said, include urgent care, primary care providers and dentists.
“Everyone wants to be here,” he said. “This corridor is something we’ll be talking about for a long time to come.”
Hearst Connecticut Media includes four daily newspapers: Connecticut Post, Greenwich Time, The Advocate (Stamford) and The News Times (Danbury). See newstimes.com for more from this reporter.