When Parkview Regional Medical Center opened in March 2012, much of the nearby property was vacant.
A movie theater and a Culver's restaurant sat across the street, but most of the development on busy Dupont Road was west of the Interstate 69 interchange. Parkview opened east of the highway.
In the decade since, a flurry of medical, hospitality and retail sector businesses have opened in the immediate area. They include Manchester University's pharmacy school, Grey Stone Health and Rehabilitation Center, Residence Inn, Staybridge Suites, Mike's Carwash, Giordano's and Panda Express.
Fort Wayne's fourth Meijer superstore is the newest business on the block. The retailer began welcoming shoppers at 4242 E. Dupont Road on May 12.
Southwest Allen County neighbors worry that significant development will follow the planned Indiana University Health hospital at Lower Huntington and Ernst roads near another I-69 interchange. The Allen County commissioners last month approved rezoning to accommodate IU Health's medical campus construction plans.
Steve Zacher, president and managing broker of The Zacher Co., confirmed the land surrounding the planned IU Health hospital “is a prime location for further development.”
But it won't spring up around IU Health's 137-acre site overnight.
“You need zoning. You need utilities,” Zacher said. “You need adequate sites for (development).”
Hospitals become economic drivers
The equation is simple. Retailers and service providers want to be where people are. And hospitals are sometimes compared to small cities because they never close and hundreds of people – patients and employees – are always on-site.
“(Hospitals) really are economic drivers for an area,” said Mark Arend, editor in chief of Site Selection magazine. “They can act as magnets of high-end talent, and that's very important to communities.”
A large hospital opened about 10 miles from where Arend lives in suburban Atlanta. Since then, specialty physicians' offices, child care centers and other retail and residential construction have followed.
“The region is really booming” since the hospital opened, he said. “Those kinds of services are needed by the people who work there.”
Scott Hoffman, director of Meijer's new Dupont Road store, said that area's “huge growth” persuaded the Grand Rapids, Michigan-based company to open its first new Fort Wayne store in 26 years.
“It's an opportunity to serve more customers. Lots of families here. The hospital right here,” he said, referring to Parkview Regional Medical Center. “The development of the area will just continue.”
Vanessa Vargas will be glad to hear that.
The 23-year-old native of northeast Fort Wayne has had a front-row seat to the area's investment boom. She made time to shop at the new Meijer store on opening day.
“I'm very happy with all the development that's been happening on Dupont Road because all this stuff hasn't been here for the longest time,” she said last week. “Giordano's is really nice. And Mocha Lounge just opened up. But I'm really excited about Meijer more than anything else.”
Homebuilding also accelerates
Retail isn't the only type of investment driven by hospital development. Residential building also accelerates.
Stan Phillips, a commercial real estate agent who is semi-retired from NAI Bradley, recalled the days when he worked for NAI Harding Dahm.
“We did all the land assembly for Lutheran Hospital and Dupont Hospital,” he said. “All those were cornfields, farmland.”
Numerous housing developments and shopping centers, including the Village at Coventry, have sprung up in southwest Fort Wayne since Lutheran Hospital opened, Phillips said.
“With the hospital came the retail and service industry and then lots of housing,” he said.
Bill Bean, a local investor who owns numerous businesses, said the area where IU Health plans to build is ripe for development. The land at Lower Huntington and Ernst roads is near the I-69 interchange with Airport Expressway.
“I think that anybody who lives in close proximity to an intersection of a major interstate has to realize it's only a matter of time until it's developed,” he said.
Bean pointed to the development around I-469, which was flanked by farm fields when it first opened to traffic.
Developers are attracted to major interstate interchanges because they offer visibility, steady traffic flow and easy access to the highway while being close to customers.
Some residents living near the site spoke out against IU Health's plans during a January public hearing of the Allen County Plan Commission.
Andrea Milliman, who lives in the nearby Prairie Meadows development, said 149 signatures had been gathered in four days on a petition opposing the development.
Residents believe the hospital is “not needed at this location” and would “look out of place” in the semirural area, she said during the hearing. Milliman added the campus would be served by local roads already stressed by traffic.
Bean expects roads would be expanded as needed to handle additional traffic.
Joshua Collins, a team leader at the local General Motors truck assembly plant, has lived near I-69's Union Chapel exit for about 10 years.
“I've seen all the expansion” along Dupont Road, the 42-year-old said, adding that he's noticed numerous area farm fields in the area being converted into housing developments.
“Urban sprawl is something that just can't be avoided,” Collins said.
Phillips sees a bright side for neighbors of the new IU Health hospital campus. They'll gain easier access to health care – and many other things, he said.
Arend, of Site Selection, said area homeowners who aren't satisfied by Phillips' glass-half-full view will still have options.
“If people don't want the growth,” he said, “they can sell their property for a pretty penny and move elsewhere.”
The following includes a few notable opening on East Dupont Road over the past decade:
March 2012 – Parkview Regional Medical Center opens slightly northeast of the Dupont Road-Interstate 69 interchange
August 2012 – Manchester University opens its pharmacy school adjacent to the Parkview Regional Medical Center campus
October 2013 – Grey Stone Health and Rehabilitation Center celebrates the opening of its facility at 10445 Dupont Oaks Blvd.
March 2014 – Belmont Beverage opens a store at 3718 E. Dupont Road
Spring 2018 – Mocha Lounge opens at 4635 E. Dupont Road
July 2018 – Fort Wayne Plan Commission approves plans for a Residence Inn with 127 rooms and a Staybridge Suites with 134 rooms in the 3700 and 3800 blocks of East Dupont Road
December 2018 – Mike's Carwash opens a new location at 4010 E. Dupont Road
October 2020 – Giordano's, a restaurant known for its Chicago-style stuffed deep dish pizza, opens at 10040 Diebold Road
June 2021 – Panda Express announces plans to open a restaurant on East Dupont Road, east of Diebold Road
May 2022 – Meijer opens a supercenter at 4242 E. Dupont Road