By Katie Dahlstrom Herald Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — Facing mounting opposition from Clinton residents, community leaders met Thursday to discuss locations for a low-income healthcare clinic other than downtown parkland.
Community Health Care, Inc., a Quad-Cities based healthcare company would like to put a clinic on 1 acre of the municipal parking lot attached to Clinton Park on Third Street.
The city would sell the land to CHC for $1 and CHC would use a $3.2 million federal grant to construct a 12,000 square foot facility. The grant requires the construction of a new building and does not allow for renovation of an old building or pay for land acquisition. The project also has to be substantially complete by September.
CHC is being assisted in the project by the Sisters of St. Francis to find a location that will be centrally located and close to public transportation. The clinic is expected to have 3,600 medical and 1,920 dental visits annually and employ 14 full-time equivalents.
After information on the proposed development in Clinton Park came forward during the Clinton City Council’s committee of the whole meeting last week, city officials heard from a host of downtown business owners and community members who felt the sale would negatively impact the city.
“We were hearing that people believed in the healthcare center, just not the location. So we wanted to look at solutions,” Sister Anne Martin Phelan told 15 people who met Thursday to conceive other ideas. “We’re not attached to that property. It’s just that seemed to be available. It would probably be environmentally friendly, it’s definitely within part of the neighborhood that would be served.”
Among those voicing opposition after learning about the plans for Clinton Park was John Eisenman, who is the co-owner of Abstract and Title in downtown Clinton and also serves as the Chairman of the Downtown Clinton Alliance. Eisenman wrote a letter to the city on behalf of the alliance urging the the city against the location because the loss of free, off-street parking would negatively impact efforts to develop upper-floor housing, among other things.
“We have been working for decades to develop perimeter parking around the downtown to provide spaces for employees of businesses and residents, thus freeing up storefront parking for patrons of the businesses. This proposed sale will negatively impact these efforts,” Eisenman wrote.
The Clinton Historical Society also opposed the use of the parking lot.
This is the third location that has been eyed for the clinic. The first, the former Turner metal site, had environmental issues and in the second, a plot in Liberty Square, time forced the city to look elsewhere.
City Administrator Jessica Kinser and At-Large Councilwoman Jennifer Graf met with the Sisters to discuss the Liberty Square problems and the Clinton Park location. It was then addressed individually with council members before coming to the council last Tuesday.
The city has already spent money having Des Moines attorneys to work on a development agreement for the property, which in 1958 was deeded to be used only for free, public parking.
Nancy Peart, the principal of Prince of Peace, has concerns about the clinic because of the effect on Clinton Park, which her school uses for recess.
“It’s a safety issue in my mind. We’re on a busy street as is, so if you are to add a clinic that will bring more vehicle and foot traffic, it heightens my awareness even more,” Peart said. “I understand that it needs to be centrally located, but I would hope the city would look at other options.”
Her hopes were met Thursday.
A group of 16 people including Kinser, Eisenman, At-Large Councilman John Rowland, At-Large Councilmen elect Tom Determann and Grant Wilke, Ward 3 Councilman-elect Ed O’Neill, Self-Supporting Municipal District Director Jacob Coupee, Sisters of St. Francis staff, Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce President Nathan Sondgeroth, Sen. Tom Harkin’s Regional Director Alison Hart and Vice President of Business Development at Mercy Medical Center Rod Tokheim discussed options other than Clinton Park for the healthcare facility.
The group identified six possible locations for CHC that are both privately and city-owned: the land next to Hy-Vee; parcels on Seventh Ave South adjacent to Sterling Federal Bank and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church; a parcel on Eighth Avenue South and Fifth Street; city-owned property in Miller Ridge; parcels near the Sawmill Museum; property at Fourth Avenue North and Third Street; and a piece of Chancy Park.
The viability of acquiring the property as well as the size and other characteristics of the lots have to be examined first. The group plans to meet regarding the findings early next month.
“We’re confident we can find some sort of solution,” Sisters of St. Francis representative Laura Anderson said.
In the meantime, the plans to put the clinic in Clinton Park have stalled.