From pediatrics to geriatrics, developer bullish on Arizona

Posted By Mike Padgett

Aug. 1, 2008

Every 24 hours, on average, 20 to 25 babies are born at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa, Ariz.

That means, in just one year, 365 new kindergarten classes arrive at one hospital in one of metro Phoenix’s largest suburbs.

At the other end of the age spectrum, people are living longer and healthier lives. Many flunk retirement because their creative engines refuse to idle. They want to continue learning and traveling and making a difference until their spirits head for the ether zone.

So from pediatrics to geriatrics, with more babies being produced by a growing population that is living longer, it’s a no-brainer that the Valley’s future includes a growing number of medical facilities.

Those include hospitals, medical offices, research facilities and medical candy stores filled with all kinds of goodies, ranging from tummy tucks, breast implants, face lifts, fitness training, artificial joints, teeth whitening advice and skin cancer specialists.

All of the above explains why The Plaza Cos. President and CEO Sharon Harper remains bullish in a time of depressed residential and commercial construction.

“It’s a strong sector,” Harper says, readying her PowerPoint presentation. “It’s strong because of population growth through babies and population growth in the 60-plus category. There’s a real need for healthcare services, and that will grow.”

Harper’s company focuses on constructing, leasing and managing medical, senior living and bioscience facilities. One could say her flagship enterprise these days, as a codeveloper with Higgins Development Partners in Chicago, is SkySong, The ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center.

Harper is gearing up to tell me more about SkySong. I’m sitting with her in her conference room in her offices in Peoria, a northwestern suburb of Phoenix.

Harper is right about the growing need for medical facilities. Even now, with housing prices decelerating, the Southwest remains popular. It lacks hurricanes, floods and devastating earthquakes. The sun shines most days, and residents don’t have to shovel their way out of their garages.

Harper has been in the construction and development industry for 26 years. Ask her about her success in what traditionally has been a man’s world, and she smiles.

Ask her which of her projects is her favorite, and her response is: “The most recent one we’re doing, obviously, because we’re so focused on it.”

Harper’s privately-held company’s portfolio of developed and managed properties is valued at more than $1 billion.

Topping her priority list today are projects tied to the future kindergarten classes arriving in local hospitals and the state’s growing numbers of retirees.

Harper starts her presentation with details about SkySong. Its first two buildings are complete and partly occupied on 32 acres at the southeast corner of Scottsdale and McDowell roads in Scottsdale.

Each of the two office buildings has 150,000 square feet on four floors. South of the second building, work will start soon on a parking garage that will be surrounded by a building with at least 350 apartments. The master plan has 1.2 million square feet of mixed-use space, including a business-class hotel.

Sundt Construction is the contractor. The local architect is DMJM Design in Phoenix. The master plan architect is Pei Cobb Freed & Partners in New York.

This summer, crews will begin adding concrete footings for a fabric canopy more than twice as high as the 60-foot-tall buildings. The white canopy will be visible to about 100,000 passengers traveling in the 1,300 airliners landing and taking off each day at Sky Harbor International Airport.

Although SkySong has much of Harper’s attention, that doesn’t diminish her interest in her other major works. They include:

  • Silverstone, a development of 270 luxury senior living units on 33 acres at the southeast corner of Scottsdale and Pinnacle Peak roads in north Scottsdale. The land is part of a 160-acre mixed-use development. Silverstone’s other features include an on-site care center, assisted living services, memory support and skilled nursing residences. Summit Builders is the contractor, and DAVIS is the architect. Construction of streets and other infrastructure started earlier this year. Harper’s company and codeveloper Classic Residence by Hyatt started construction of the first residential buildings about a month ago. The first residents of the high-end residences are expected in early 2010.
  • Phoenix Biomedical Plaza, a six-story, 270,000-square-foot mixed-use building proposed just east of the northeast corner of Van Buren and Seventh streets in downtown Phoenix. The Plaza Co.’s partner is Health Care REIT Inc., a public company based in Toledo, Ohio. The site is across the street from the 28-acre biomedical campus anchored by the Translational Genomics Research Institute, the Arizona Biomedical Collaboration, and the University of Arizona College of Medicine.
  • A mixed-use development proposed east of the ASU West campus. The Plaza Cos. and partner Trillium Residential are in talks with ASU about a development designed for senior citizens. Early plans showed 150 rental units.

Harper has confidence in Arizona’s future growth, from pediatrics to geriatrics.

“People don’t move here because they have to,” she says, ending her presentation. “Their mindset is different.”

Some are wealthy retirees. Many others, wealthy or not, retired or not, want to travel, participate in volunteerism and continue learning.

“People are looking for experiences in lifestyles and opportunities, be it philanthropic or being involved in the community. And fitness and health and wellbeing, that’s what we design around.”

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Aug 1st, 2008

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