ADDED SERVICES: University Orthopedics is building a new facility in East Providence to expand services. CEO Weber Shill, left, visits the site with Michael Integlia, president and CEO of Michael Integlia & Co., construction manager for the project.
East Providence is emerging as a hot spot for medical-office buildings, according to real estate professionals, for reasons centered on location, cost and ease of development.
Proximity to major hospital centers in Providence and easy highway access have helped to attract medical offices and new development to the city. Executives also cited the city's business-friendly Planning Department and room for ample, convenient parking.
In its overview of the market, part of the Greater East Bay submarket for Rhode Island, CB Richard Ellis New England cited the location factor, along with lower land-development costs.
The East Bay submarket had the most dramatic improvement of any office submarket in 2016, according to Andrew Galvin, first vice president for CB Richard Ellis New England.
Last year, the East Bay segment had 89,000 square feet of positive net absorption of space, despite a large amount of new product coming online. Last year, 72,000 square feet of new office space was created, and another 92,000 square feet is under active construction this year, Galvin said in January, as part of the 2017 Market Outlook presentation.
"We think this is a trend that will continue, due to the proximity of the hospital complex in Providence and lower land costs of East Providence," Galvin said.
In June 2016, University Medicine Foundation opened a four-story building at 375 Wampanoag Trail. University Medicine, which is affiliated with The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, is a nonprofit primary care, specialty-outpatient and subspecialty medical group. It includes 200 physicians.
The new facility, which consolidated eight practices into three floors, was a $6.5 million project, according to University Medicine.
Now under construction in the Kettle Point development on the waterfront, off Veterans Memorial Parkway, is the $40 million building to house University Orthopedics.
The 88,500-square-foot structure, which began in November, is expected to be completed in June of 2018. It will allow more than 100 employees of University Orthopedics to relocate to the state-of-the-art facility, which will include medical offices, orthopedic urgent care, an MRI facility and outpatient surgery suites.
University Orthopedics will continue to operate through four other sites in Rhode Island – in Barrington, East Greenwich, Middletown and South Providence – but the new building will allow it to offer more services.
University Orthopedics, which is also affiliated with Brown University, is a regional referral center for patients with back and neck pain, joint pain, sports medicine problems, shoulder, hand, hip and knee pain, as well as foot and ankle injuries. It operates multiple centers focused on treatments, and has more than 25 board-certified orthopedic surgeons.
The decision to locate in East Providence was the result of a long search, according to its CEO, Weber Shill. Ultimately, the proximity to Providence and availability of parking were important, he said. The center had to have access to a parking lot, he said, given the nature of orthopedic injuries.
"Extremely important," he said, of the availability of parking. "Our patients come to us in wheelchairs, or on crutches. Some of them are brought in on stretchers."
Shill also credited the East Providence city government for a pro-business mindset. The Planning Department, in particular, worked with University Orthopedics on its site-development plans. "They're open to businesses," he said. "They were a joy to work with."
In recent years, the city has reached a critical mass in attracting medical-office buildings and tenants, said Planning Director Jeanne Boyle.
In addition to University Medicine, which opened last year, the city has attracted multiple physicians to a series of office condos at 450 Veterans Memorial Parkway, including Coastal Medical Inc., the state's largest private group practice.
Coastal Medical opened a building on Warren Avenue about 10 years ago, Boyle noted.
"We do recognize we are a good location for medical offices," Boyle said.
East Providence is attractive to medical-office developments because it has suitable land sites, which offer room for parking. It's close to Providence and the major hospitals, yet has that availability of land because of the suburban setting.
"We offer sites where we have parking," she said. In conversations with physicians, she said many have expressed preference for parking lots, rather than garages, because patients find them easier to navigate.
For the city, this has been sought-after development for pragmatic reasons.
"They have high-pay jobs and they tend to have high-value buildings that have added to our tax base," she said. •