Henderson’s Hail Mary

Beset by delays, developers still hope to get 'health village' moving forward

unionsquare.jpgAs the one-time commissioner of the fast-paced Arena Football League, David Baker became accustomed to seeing a touchdown about every 90 seconds and final scores in the 74-68 range. Cue the irony: As the main man behind the $1.5 billion integrated health village planned for Henderson, Baker is involved in a game that’s scoreless … and has been for more than two years.

A quick timeline:

April 7, 2011: Union Village, a 171-acre development anchored by a hospital and surrounded by medical, residential and retail components, is announced for the northeast corner of U.S. 95 and Galleria Drive. The prime piece of city-owned land comes with a $11.6 million price tag.

July 5, 2011: Henderson approves changes to its land-use plan and zoning to pave the way for the development.

April 23, 2012: Baker tells Vegas INC that “everything’s lining up,” and if all goes according to plan, the village will break ground in the fall, with major construction in early 2013.

September 4, 2012: After presenting the City Council with a 60-plus-page development agreement, Baker says, “We hope that by the end of the year there will be some sticks coming out of the ground.”

May 2013: The northeast corner of U.S. 95 and Galleria is as barren as it was April 7, 2011.

“Would we love for it to be faster? Yeah,” Baker says from his Southern California office. “But I’ve got a friend who reminds me if you’ve got a $1.5 billion project, you can sometimes expect $1.5 billion problems.”

Chief among those problems: Dignity Health—the company that owns St. Rose Dominican Hospitals and was pegged to provide the anchor for Union Village—failed to secure financing and pulled out of the project in December, two days before they were to seal the deal. That sent Baker’s team, which had been in exclusive negotiations with Dignity for more than a year, back to square one.

On April 16—exactly four months to the day that Dignity backed out—the City Council agreed to amend the Union Village land-purchasing agreement for a fourth time. The new closing date is July 16, only now the developers are required to put $115,000 into escrow for each month of the delay. If the deal gets done, the escrow money will be applied to the $11.6 million land-purchasing agreement; if it falls apart, the City of Henderson keeps the cash—not that anyone on either side anticipates the latter scenario.

“They’ve done their market analysis to determine that there is a need for this type of facility, and I don’t know that anyone can argue that there’s not that need,” says Bristol Ellington, Henderson’s assistant city manager and the city’s point man for Union Village. “We’re working with them to bring this to fruition. But clearly we’re not going to sell the land until all the parameters and criteria and stipulations have been met.”

Ellington says the delays haven’t cost Henderson a dime. On the flip side, Baker says he and his partners are in for “about 10 million bucks” in studies, expenses and consulting fees. “We have spent a lot of money on it, and we’re prepared to spend more,” he says. “We’re not saying it’s a done deal. But I hope you hear—and I know the City has—that we believe in the project. And we really believe that this can make a difference in Southern Nevada.”

Baker’s latest shovel-in-dirt target date is the end of this year, with the first phase of Union Village to open 3½ years later. So, if this were a football game, where do we stand? “I kind of think we’re coming to the end of the first quarter,” Baker says.

Let’s hope there are some points on the board by halftime.