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Grosse Pointe City

May 6, 2013

St. John proposes mix of medical, retail at former Borders

Grosse Pointe City Council expected to consider proposal May 13

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
This rendering shows what the old Borders bookstore on Kercheval might look like if St. John Providence Health System is allowed to divide the building into a mix of medical and retail uses. The Grosse Pointe City Council is expected to consider the proposal at a meeting May 13.

As one of the largest vacant spaces in the Village and a former anchor, the shuttered Borders store at 17141 Kercheval has been a source of concern for the community for the last two years.

St. John Providence Health System, which operates the nearby St. John Hospital and Medical Center at Mack and Moross in Grosse Pointe Woods and Detroit, has a possible solution that would bring business back to that building. But, that solution would mean a change in the way the 19,800-square-foot space has long been used, and it would require special approval from the City Council to move forward.

St. John officials are asking for permission to use the majority of the back of the building — roughly 75-78 percent — for medical services, with plans to divide the remainder — the Kercheval frontage — into two retail spaces of about 1,600 square feet and 1,300 square feet, respectively. The city would normally mandate that 60 percent of the building be retail. Zoning in the Village does allow for office and medical use in the rear 40 percent of a building on Kercheval.

Hospital officials said they’d like to create a facility with a number of services, including physical therapy, offices for primary care physicians and specialists, a lab draw station, and diagnostics such as X-rays, ultrasounds, stress and nuclear tests, bone density evaluations and echocardiography. Ideally, they say they’d like to be able to develop a special focus on women’s health. A conference area could also be used for community wellness and other programs.

This plan is a change from the urgent care facility St. John officials considered but eventually dismissed.

“We got a lot of community feedback that that was not what they wanted,” said Bob Hoban, president of care continuum at St. John Providence Health System.

Chris Grobbel, of Grosse Pointe Park, was among those who opposed that initial concept.

“We’re glad they dumped the idea of urgent care,” he said.

As proposed at press time, the St. John facilities would be accessible from both Kercheval and the back parking lot via doors and a main hallway that would also give patients, as well as other customers, access to both retail spaces.

Richard Abbott, director of corporate real estate/design and construction for St. John Providence Health System, said they were working with a firm at press time to identify possible tenants for the retail spaces.

“We don’t have anybody yet to lease these,” Abbott said.

Retail would actually be the last component in the plan. Doug Gonzales, corporate architect for St. John Providence Health System, said they would most likely have to wait on retail until the medical facilities were built, because the retail area would be used for construction staging, given the lack of another spot for such staging. If the City Council gives St. John the green light, he said they’d probably start work almost immediately — by July at the latest. The St. John offices would be ready to open by March or April of 2014 under that scenario, Gonzales said.

“We’re probably eight to nine months out,” he explained of the construction schedule.

One thing making the project a little easier is the fact that the Borders store is a fairly open space, meaning that construction crews don’t need to tear down a lot of walls before they start.

Hoban said the project is expected to cost up to $5.4 million, including construction and new medical equipment. They have already put down a deposit on the building and have a binding purchase offer in place, he said. However, if City officials don’t approve the project, the hospital is unlikely to go forward with the purchase.

The space has been vacant since the Borders store closed in 2011. The Michigan-based bookstore chain eventually shuttered all of its stores after filing for bankruptcy.

Before Borders — which opened its Village location in 1998 — the space had been occupied by the Jacobson’s home store.

A couple dozen residents from the Pointes and surrounding communities looked at plans and talked to hospital officials during an open house that St. John held May 2 in the old store, and most seemed to like what they saw.

Kristen Welch, of Grosse Pointe City, a stay-at-home mom who used to enjoy bringing her children to Borders, said she “was very disappointed when they closed” the bookstore.

“I think anything with activity to bring people to town is (an improvement),” Welch said. “Even small amounts of retail could be (an asset). Something is better than nothing at this point.”

Marita Grobbel, of Grosse Pointe Woods, said the medical facility would add another element to the Village to create a place where residents can walk and get everything they might need.

“I think this will help all of the businesses and attract somebody to take the space next door,” which formerly housed Ace Hardware, she said.

Her brother, Chris Grobbel, said retaining retail in that spot is vital.

“We didn’t want to lose that,” he said.

“We would like to see them get to full occupancy in the Village,” Chris Grobbel added.

His wife, Karen Grobbel, agreed, noting that the retail “will be affordable and stable” in the smaller spaces proposed by the hospital.

“I think it would be a great use of the space,” said John Adamo, of Harrison Township, a volunteer who serves on the hospital’s nonprofit arm, The Guild of St. John Hospital and Medical Center.

Fellow Guild volunteer Bill Viviano, of Grosse Pointe Shores, concurred.

“If they don’t do it, it would be a shame,” Viviano said. “We don’t need empty buildings in the Grosse Pointe Village.”

Joe Gabelsberger, of Warren, expressed a similar sentiment.

“It’s a shame to leave the old building here empty,” he said. “It’s not an asset (the way it is now). … It’s just a waste. (This plan) will breathe life back into the city.”

Grosse Pointe City resident Delores Mabarak admired conceptual drawings of the new building frontage, along with the proposed new use.

“We’re for it,” she said. “I think it’s great.”

Her husband, Raymond Mabarak, said this would be “a viable operation,” and he pointed out that the hospital is a stable entity that’s “here to stay.”

“I think it’s a win-win for the city,” Raymond Mabarak said. “It brings a lot of employees into the area to support the businesses, and it brings retail into the area.”

The City Council is expected to weigh in on the proposal at a meeting at 7 p.m. May 13 in council chambers.

“We’re hopeful they’re accommodating,” Hoban said of City officials. “This will add a lot of synergy to the community.”

He said they estimate it would bring about 20,000 visitors to the Village per year. The facility itself is expected to have fewer than 50 employees, he said.

“Hopefully (our patients) will frequent businesses in the Village,” Hoban said.

Hoban said they feel the vast majority of patients using the facility would be from the Grosse Pointes or elsewhere in the immediate area. He said St. John patients have been asking the hospital to create a facility in the Pointes, so they wouldn’t have to navigate the large hospital campus at Mack and Moross to get to their appointments.

“It’s about providing care where it’s convenient and close to home,” Hoban said.

As a nonprofit, the hospital portion of the building wouldn’t pay traditional property taxes to the City. However, hospital officials said they’re in talks with City officials to negotiate an annual payment they’d make to the City in place of taxes.

If approved, the proposal would give St. John Providence Health System physical therapy facilities in the same area as Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe, which now offers those and other services out of the Neighborhood Club Recreation and Wellness Center less than a block away. Hoban doesn’t necessarily view the St. John proposal as competing with Beaumont’s offerings, pointing out that each hospital has its own patients seeking these services.

The City Council meeting will take place at 7 p.m. May 13 in City Council chambers, 17147 Maumee. For more information about the meeting, visit www.grossepointecity.org or call (313) 885-5800. For more about the hospital’s plans or to share feedback on their proposal, call the hospital at (313) 343-7302.