Archive for Saturday, April 22, 2006

Medical community expands in west Lawrence

April 22, 2006

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The Internal Medicine Group, Sigler Pharmacy and TherapyWorks opened offices along West Sixth Street in December 2005. Lawrence Memorial Hospital announced Wednesday that it was acquiring The Internal Medicine Group.

The Internal Medicine Group, Sigler Pharmacy and TherapyWorks opened offices along West Sixth Street in December 2005. Lawrence Memorial Hospital announced Wednesday that it was acquiring The Internal Medicine Group.

Up here, there are dental offices as far as the eye can see.

The string of specialist offices stretches for blocks as the boom of medical buildings continues to expand along Wakarusa Drive between Bob Billings Way and Sixth Street.

"I don't know if it was herd instinct, but it has evolved that way," developer Larry Chance said.

Chance and his company, Alvamar Realty, helped to spur the growth in the northwest corridor of the city back in the mid-'80s, when the area known as Oread West had just been zoned for mixed-use office space.

The company sold the first building on the property then, but from that moment on, the history of the area began to change dramatically.

The area north of Bob Billings (then 15th Street) was originally pegged as a research corridor when Kansas University approached Chance nearly 20 years ago.

The idea then, interim city Planning Director Sheila Stogsdill said, was that a booming science research industry would quickly fill the acres of property.

"When it was first zoned, the uses were fairly restricted," Stogsdill said. "If you wanted to move in there, your business had to be research-oriented."

But by the early-'90s, the idea of a research-only corridor began to fade. The market wasn't as strong or as willing to locate there as developers and KU officials had hoped, and much of the area stood vacant.

Developers, including Oread West Development LLC, wanted fewer zoning restrictions for the area so they could build private streets and offer land to private owners, according to a 1994 city report.

Since then, medical and other professionals have flooded the area.

"It's obviously been a desirable location," Stogsdill said.

But with land left to develop, how long can the growth of medical facilities here continue?

According to city records, the Oread West area attempted to expand use there to include the Villaniche Lofts, a condominium development that would have featured upper-end property for professionals and retired empty-nesters.

The developer, David Kimbrell, had already sold nine of the 43 planned condos for the $35 million project by 2005. But just a few months into the year, the project folded.

City records show the project was rezoned back to its previous industrial zoning in September last year, saying that the Villaniche project had been abandoned.

Other developers had planned lofts there, but for the most part the stretch of land has been saturated with medical offices.

Thomas Rainbolt moved his dental offices to the area in November 2004, eventually opening for business about a year later.

"I wasn't the first," Rainbolt said. "All of these specialists are out here now."

Rainbolt admitted that the spate of doctors and medical professionals in the area drew him there as well. Once one doctor sets up shop in an area and finds success, it becomes a magnet for similar businesses.

"I think it just kind of feeds on itself," he said.

But the saturation of doctors and dentists in the area concerns him. He knows there are more medical specialists ready to move into the area, and the specter of an overcompetitive, dense pool of doctors should worry the community, he said.

"At some point people need to take that into consideration," Rainbolt said. "There's going to be gaps in the city if every medical guy is out here."

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