Meriter Medical Development Delayed

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MTT News Desk's picture
Matt Geiger
An early architectural rendering that went before the Middleton Common Council

Plans to build a multifaceted new medical campus east of the Beltline at Century Avenue and Laura Lane have been delayed at least a year, according to sources close to the project.

At a joint meeting in early 2011, the Middleton Common Council and the Middleton Plan Commission each granted conceptual approval to the scope of the project and Meriter Health Services’ request for $9 million in public assistance. The development agreement depicts five phases of development, each with a different city obligation. The initial phase would include $6.8 million from the city.

The city then embarked on a sometimes-harrowing quest to relocate its existing public works garage away from the land, finally opting build at a Department Of Transportation Park and Ride facility to the north.

But the council recently learned that Meriter representatives have requested a longer timeline.

“Meriter notified me on October 29 that they are requesting a one-year extension from March 1, 2014, to March 1, 2015, on the timeline for commencement of their $80 million Ambulatory Care Project on Laura Lane,” city administrator Mike Davis wrote to members of the city council.

Because of the delay, the city council has opted to hold off on some of its spending in Tax Increment Financing District (TID) 5. While the city will move forward with plans to buy the Park and Ride property, it might not borrow the rest of the money to build the new Public Works headquarters until 2013 or 2014, according to Davis.

(Instead of borrowing more for the Public Works Garage project at this time, the city is borrowing $1.5 million for the first phase of a project that will reconstruct Terrace Avenue.)

When the medical campus was first announced, Meriter representatives described the development as a “public/private partnership” between the non-profit healthcare provider and the city. The campus as proposed would come to fruition over a 20-year build-out period.

Proponents said it would create 50 times more taxable value than currently exists on the land in question. Skeptics questioned the impact of federal healthcare reform, and a well-publicized feud with competitors, on the project.

Meriter’s plan is to construct the development on 12.86 acres of land that was previously held by four separate owners.

The Meriter campus could eventually include ambulatory services, outpatient surgery, an emergency department and helipad, general medical facilities and other services – many of which would be developed to meet new demands created by federal healthcare reform.

Proponents said the project would generate up to 200 new positions with average incomes of $50,000 to $55,000 annually, plus benefits. They said the facilities would act as an economic catalyst, that the land’s value would increase by an estimated $80 million over the next 20 years, and that local residents would benefit directly from nearby medical services.

While Meriter Medical Group is a non-profit entity, Meriter Laboratories and Physicians Plus are for-profit organizations that work in conjunction with Meriter Medical Group. Meriter provides approximately $40 million annually in free care in order to qualify for its non-profit status.

Plans for the campus began with informal discussions between Meriter and Middleton Mayor Kurt Sonnentag.  Meriter then held a series of planning sessions with the Middleton Area Development Corporation (MADC). The project was unveiled to the public in 2011.

John Lehman, the City of Middleton’s finance director, said last week that his understanding is that the Meriter project is on track despite the delay. “It seems to me the question is one of ‘when,’ not ‘if,’” Lehman said.



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