GATEWAY SWINGS OPEN: Hancock Health courting development prospects

Before the pandemic hit, developers and prospective tenants were expressing interest in the Gateway area at Mt. Comfort Road and Interstate 70. Phones are beginning to ring again, an official says of the 144-acre Hancock Gateway Park and the medical center that is its centerpiece. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter) Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

GREENFIELD — The view outside Rob Matt’s window is about to change drastically.

For now, he sees little but soybeans and semi trucks outside his glassed-in office on the top floor of the Gateway Hancock Health center, which overlooks Interstate 70 at the Mt. Comfort Road exit.

But Matt envisions a plan in which the 144-acre plot of land where the center sits is transformed into a thriving multi-use commerce park that helps spur Mt. Comfort Road into a bustling corridor.

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As senior vice president of Hancock Regional Hospital — which owns the Gateway center — Matt is leading the charge in the development.

An apartment complex, medical offices, a movie theater, retail and restaurants are all possible candidates to move into the space, he said.

“The intent of this development is to raise the bar in developmental standards within Hancock County,” he said.

Matt said the location is at a crucial crossroads for the county, and can set up Mt. Comfort Road to become a well-traveled commerce corridor as a gateway into fast-growing western Hancock County.

Before COVID-19 hit, Matt was in talks with two “very interested” hotel groups, a bio-pharmaceutical company and a life science company, all of which were interested in potential developments. Both hotel companies were interested in building a hotel with some type of large meeting space to meet the county’s need for more large-group meeting space, he said.

While the pandemic temporarily brought those discussions to a halt, Matt said his phone has started ringing again with calls from potential developers.

“We would expect some development commitments within six months,” he said.

The most promising lead so far is for an aging-in-place campus that would include various stages of housing for seniors, from independent living to assisted living and full-time nursing care. That type of development would generate traffic and spur restaurant and retail development, Matt said.

He’s also in talks with multiple developers interested in building multifamily housing units like apartments, which Matt feels is partially due to the creation of Walmart and Amazon distribution centers not far away.

“Those projects will bring a real demand for housing,” he said.

Randy Sorrell, director of the Hancock Economic Development Council, said the corridor is poised to become a boon to not just housing development but to local commerce and job growth as well.

He credits Hancock Health leaders for having the foresight to design what he believes will become a thriving gateway into the county.

“I appreciate the fact that a legacy institution in this county has stepped in to develop this site, which is in fact the gateway to our county,” he said. “I’ve seen what they hope to accomplish there, and it’s a great opportunity to diversify and grow our economy.”

Sorrell is part of a group of county leaders who meet regularly to discuss the best ways to develop the Mt. Comfort Corridor in hopes of making it the next great thoroughfare.

Known as the Coalition for Smart Growth, the group consists of leaders from Hancock Health, the Hancock Economic Development Council, NineStar Connect, Greenfield Banking Co. and the towns of McCordsville, New Palestine and Cumberland.

The group references a study done by the Urban Land Institute in early 2019 that researched the most effective ways to develop and enhance the corridor.

“The better we develop it the more we can benefit the county,” Matt said.

From Hancock Health’s perspective, purchasing the land was a strategic move designed to pull in customers from the north — including McCordsville, Noblesville, Fishers and Indianapolis.

“We decided this was where all the growth is. McCordsville is the second-fastest growing community in the state,” Matt said.

The Mt. Comfort Corridor — a direct link from the southern to the northern ends of the county — also provides a quick route for people driving from southern destinations like New Palestine, he said.

Matt and fellow coalition members are using Hamilton Town Center in Noblesville — a bustling restaurant and retail center with multi-family housing nearby — as a guide for the type of development they want to see at the Gateway Hancock Health complex.

When a sampling of residents to the north were asked if they ever travel into Greenfield or Hancock County, a majority of respondents said no, Matt said.

If the Gateway complex were to be developed along the same lines as Hamilton Town Center, it would give people for miles around a reason to venture into Hancock County, he said.

Ideally, they would then be drawn deeper into Hancock County to take advantage of other shopping and dining opportunities elsewhere in the county.

“This is called Gateway because we believe this is the gateway to the community,” Matt said.

“We believe that Mt. Comfort will be the future. The long range plan is for Mt. Comfort to become the next (Interstate) 465, serving as the natural corridor from I-69 to (interstates) 70 and 74 and (U.S.) 40.”

Sorrell said the development can prevent a lot of the “leakage” that occurs when Hancock County residents go outside the county for jobs, shopping and entertainment.

“It’s going to have people down in that area starting to look east and not west (to Indianapolis) for those things,” he said.

“As we’ve seen the western part of the country grow, it’s become more and more a commuter community, where people live in Hancock County but work elsewhere and go elsewhere for goods and services,” Sorrell said.

“To see health care offered right there at that intersection should stop some of that leakage, which will be helped even more as it grows with commercial and retail,” he said.

Those people who are going to Marion, Hamilton and Johnson counties for shopping, dining and health care will start to explore what’s offered closer to home, Sorrell said.

“As it grows with retail and commercial and job opportunities, it’s going to be good for the whole county.”

The Gateway Hancock Health center opened in September to offer lower-cost lab work, imaging and urgent care services as compared to hospital pricing.

“It’s designed to benefit those who have high-deductible health-care plans,” Matt said.

Business at the Gateway center was going according to plan until the pandemic hit in March, but it’s since rebounded to the originally projected rates of volume, he said. The second floor is currently being used as a COVID overflow space, which thankfully has yet to be used. In the future, the space will be used for meeting rooms and leasable office space.