Rx in the City 2011
Real Estate Round-up

Mammoth Texas Medical Center set to grow even more: Look south, young doctors

Mammoth Texas Medical Center set to grow even more: Look south, young doctors

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The $65 million Menninger Clinic will be completed in 2012. Photo by Ralph Bivins
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Master plan for the Menninger Clinic Rendering courtesy of Menninger Clinic
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Patient unit at the Menninger Clinic Rendering courtesy of Menninger Clinic
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The Mennginer Clinic campus is under construction in southwest Houston. Photo by Ralph Bivins
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The ambitious new Menninger Clinic construction project — billed as the nation’s “epicenter for mental health” — is stretching the boundaries of the Texas Medical Center.

The Texas Medical Center, already the biggest in the world, is going to grow a lot more in the years ahead. And Menninger is making a $65 million bet that the growth is going to spread to the south.

The Menninger Clinic, recognized as one of the finest psychiatric treatment organizations in the world, is building a 50-acre campus out South Main, near South Post Oak Road. It sounds like it’s a long way from the Medical Center, but it’s really not. With overpasses and freeway-like improvements out on Main Street/ Highway 90, you can drive from the Menninger site to the Medical Center in five minutes.

The beginnings of several buildings are already standing on the Menninger property, a huge piece of scraped dirt that is not much to look at in its present state. But by next summer, the site will have a 120-bed hospital in a low density, landscaped setting. And over the next decade that will be followed up with outpatient services buildings, a depression center, education center and an office building to house the headquarters of various mental health organizations.

Thinking Texas Big

The Menninger Clinic relocated from Kansas to Houston in 2003. Menninger has adopted a Texas-style appetite for growth, harkening back to the pre-Alaska days, when Texas was the biggest state in the union.

 The Texas Medical Center, already the biggest in the world, is going to grow a lot more in the years ahead. And Menninger is making a $65 million bet that the growth is going to spread to the south. 

“Our goal is to transform Houston into the nation’s epicenter for mental health treatment, research, education and advocacy,” Menninger Clinic president Ian Aitken says. “We intend to do for mental illness what M.D. Anderson has done for cancer.”

Of course, the Menninger Clinic has the credentials to back this up. Menninger is consistently rated among the top 10 psychiatric hospitals in the nation by the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings. It is affiliated with Baylor College of Medicine and Methodist Hospital and Menninger staffers are on the faculty at Baylor.

So when Menninger aims to become the nation’s “epicenter of mental health,” you get the feeling it’s not typical Texas braggadocio.

Menninger officials had hoped to build the facility years earlier, but the recession pushed back the timetable. Construction is going at full-speed now with scores of workers on the site daily.

The Footprint Gigantic

The Menninger Clinic wanted a large campus with ample room for buildings and grounds. Mental health treatment can be conducted outdoors as patients and therapists stroll around the campus — keeping physically active is ideal for patients.

But large pieces of affordable property are hard to find in the existing Medical Center. So Menninger went to the south where land was more plentiful and affordable, says Menninger spokeswoman Nancy Trowbridge.

Plus the future growth of the Medical Center will be going to the south, Trowbridge says.

The Medical Center is blocked from growth to the west by Rice University. Hermann Park and the Houston Zoo hem it in from the north. The west has Highway 288 and existing neighborhoods. So growth to the south — where there is still a lot of vacant and underutilized acreage — is the best option.

It’s highly unlikely that the Texas Medical Center will ever go — with official or unofficial boundaries — as far as the Menninger site. But the Menninger Clinic will serve as a southwestern anchor for the Medical Center and Menninger will influence more medical growth on the south side of the Medical Center in years to come as a magnet pulling more medical related development to the south.

Ralph Bivins, founding editor of RealtyNewsReport, is a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.