Broken ground ... little else

Councilmember Dave Pearson, Vision Health LLC founder Dr. Tim Johns, and Vision Health LLC David Wanger pause during the groundbreaking ceremony for Peoria Regional Medical Center held June 22, 2011 in North Peoria. The facility, slated to open in 2012, lies vacant at 26320 Lake Pleasant Parkway.

This is how it was supposed to be; at least, that was how it appeared in June 2011. Groundbreaking, followed by construction equipment preparing the ground for an 81,000-square-foot general acute-care hospital – all on 10 acres of a 47-acre campus at North Lake Pleasant Parkway and Yearling Road.

The estimated payroll in its first year was set at $17 million with 250 employees and an average salary of $70,000.

At the time, there was enthusiasm all the way around for the project.

“Wow, what a big deal this is for Peoria,” Peoria City Councilman Dave Pearson said during ground-breaking ceremonies in 2011 in an article written about the medical center. “I can’t say enough about team PRMC. It takes courage ‒ the courage of a risk-taker in this economy.”

At that time, Visonary Health CEO David Wanger said, “Today is a new beginning. Today is the beginning of the construction of a state-of-the-art medical center.”

Timothy Johns, one of the founders of Visionary Health, said in 2011 he was “humbled, honored and blessed” to be able to bring the facility to Peoria and said he pledged to provide "the highest quality of healthcare . . . in the most compassionate environment."

“We are not beholden to anyone but our patients,” Johns said.

He said the hospital would be run by doctors and nurses, not administrators, and was financed in large part by smaller investors, including 75 Gilbert Hospital employees.

It sounded almost too good to be true, right? Well, all of the projections and well-laid plans have not worked out so far.

Within a year, construction was at a standstill. It remains unfinished today. The reason? Money, or lack of it.

Mayor Cathy Carlat talked about the skeleton of a building that rises from the desert floor in North Peoria.

“They have filed for bankruptcy and the bankruptcy is ongoing,” Carlat said, adding, “There will be no movement until the bankruptcy is finalized.

“As it has stood there for such a very long time, (there have been) judgments, lawsuits, all kinds of fallout.”

Carlat called what is on the property now “a skeleton, the shadow of what might have been.” She said the city approved the zoning, the principals obtained financing, but the economic downturn and other issues regarding healthcare came into the picture. Then, financing was lost, the principals obtained more financing, and what happened with that funding was a partial structure.

“We don’t know how it’s going to turn out yet,” Carlat said. “So many people, jobs, it standing there is a symbol of the economic tragedy people went through. The sad part is we really needed a medical center there.”

But there is another project Carlat believes could rise from the location.

“It’s a prime site,” she said. “I would certainly love to look at that property for some citizen use.”

Carlat indicated it might be turned into a site for another community center.

“It’s certainly needed up there,” she said.

Peoria Economic Development Services Director Scott Whyte weighed in on the halted progress at the medical center, saying, “Right now, the issue is all of the judgments and liens and bankruptcy going on affecting the property. That is really something welcomed by potential investors, not necessarily enthusiastic.

“Until debtors reorganize their affairs, it’s likely it will remain in its present condition … unless somebody is willing to come in and buy it.

“These are the issues that are very common in distressed or those with clouded title, depending on what’s on the title, it is used as a deterrent for those investing in the property. That needs to resolve itself before we see anything happening.

“There’s nothing the city can do unless the property represents a public safety issue.

“It is not collapsing anytime soon, the property is not condemned.”

Dan Garrison, a Scottsdale attorney with Andante Law Group, represents Gilbert Hospital interests. He spoke by phone recently.

Garrison said the Gilbert Hospital has a subsidiary that owns 36 acres out there, and that was the product of a settlement that was settled. Gilbert Hospital, an LLC, is also a creditor of PRMC.

“We have a five-acre parcel along Lake Pleasant Parkway frontage,” Garrison said. “Then, there’s a 36-acre parcel behind the frontage, along the residential road, behind where the hospital is.”

GH41 is the subsidiary that owns both parcels.

“There’s never been a bankruptcy for PRMC,” Garrison said. “There were two existing hospitals part of an overall chain of hospitals Johns was a principal in - both Florence and Gilbert. He has investments in all of them. He was the organizer of them and also remains the manager of the LLCs.”