Monday, September 15, 2008

Developer floats cancer center in suburbs

[Source: Jahna Berry and Edythe Jensen, The Arizona Republic] - An influential developer wants the University of Arizona to consider putting a sought-after cancer center in a suburb, not downtown Phoenix.

Officials from UA, which would oversee the future cancer center, have downplayed the developer's queries in Chandler and Surprise. Patients need a center in a sprawling, resort-like setting, and Phoenix doesn't have enough room for that, said the developer, Tom Hornaday.

But Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon isn't taking any chances and wants UA to reaffirm its commitment to build the center in his city.

Gordon has reasons to be worried:

• Last year, Phoenix lost to Goodyear on a $70 million cancer center that was to be built near Loop 101 and Thomas Road. This year, talks collapsed for a Banner teaching hospital on UA's fledgling downtown Phoenix medical-school campus.

• Chandler and Surprise are jockeying to be players in the state's bioscience scene.

• There are new Valley political players, and leaders at UA, who were not part of the early planning for Phoenix's 28-acre biomedical hub.

Eventually the area, bounded by Garfield, Monroe, Fifth and Seventh streets, would share a hospital, researchers, and the three state universities. Already, UA's medical school and Translational Genomics Research Institute and a unit from the ASU engineering college have taken root there. State lawmakers recently approved $470 million for future campus construction.

Gordon wants UA to reaffirm its four-year-old commitment to put a branch of the Arizona Cancer Center in Phoenix.

"While outsiders are trying to put together a speculative real-estate deal, it risks slowing down and diverting the attention necessary to continue the momentum to build the biomedical campus," Gordon said, noting the state Legislature and other groups have committed more than $1 billion to the downtown project.

UA hasn't changed its mind, said Judy Bernas, a university associate vice president.

"That which was envisioned on the Phoenix campus is what we will do," she said. Hornaday is a well-intentioned supporter who's talking to cities on his own time, she said. He does not represent the university, she said.

Unique commitment

But Hornaday is no ordinary developer.

The 67-year-old businessman is a longtime board member of the Arizona Cancer Center, a center donor and he's bankrolled a 110,000-square-foot medical facility at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale.

He's also a player in bioscience circles: he sits on a key Flinn Foundation committee, and a fund named in honor of his daughter helps to fund skin-cancer research at TGen. Hornaday lost his mother to breast cancer and his daughter died of skin cancer.

Chandler could be an ideal place for the Arizona Cancer Center, said Hornaday, who talked to Chandler officials about putting a facility near Kyrene Road and Loop 202. Chandler owns 56 acres in the area and has an option to buy 31 additional acres.

And if Banner goes through with plans to put a cancer hospital in central Phoenix, Arizona Cancer Center should go in the East Valley, he said. The West Valley and Scottsdale already have cancer facilities or have plans to build them, he said.

Hornaday stressed he's made only a few early inquires to suburban cities. The regents haven't formally approved the proposed Valley center, which is a few years off, he added.

"My commitment is to cancer and the cancer patient," said the businessman. "I am sort of doing it on my own."

Powerhouse plans

Like Phoenix, other Valley cities want to be a biotech powerhouse.

"We're letting the world know, we're letting the universities know, that Chandler is interested in biomedical development," Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn said.

Chandler officials, including the mayor and a spokeswoman for the city manager, confirmed they discussed the project with Hornaday but said talks are "very preliminary."

In 2007, the East Valley city aggressively went after biotech.

A pro-business group founded by former Chandler Mayor Jim Patterson organized a biotech conference at the Crowne Plaza San Marcos Golf Resort.

Two years earlier, the city met with and lured Covance Inc., a global drug-development company that is building one of its largest facilities near the Chandler Municipal Airport.

Surprise wants to get into the biotech game, too.

Economic Development Director John Hagen said he has had conversations with Hornaday but would not comment on discussions involving Arizona Cancer Center.

Surprise wants to lure biotech and medical employers to an 80-acre area surrounding the city's spring-training stadium near Greenway Road and Civic Center Drive.

Republic reporter Erin Zlomek contributed to this article.

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