Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor eyed for $15-million, mixed-use center

Jim Roe, of Roe Family Facilities (right), and Joe Sladich, that company’s community-development director, stand near where they and a partner propose building a 60,000-square-foot mixed-use rehabilitation center.  - Dan Richman/Whidbey News-Times
Jim Roe, of Roe Family Facilities (right), and Joe Sladich, that company’s community-development director, stand near where they and a partner propose building a 60,000-square-foot mixed-use rehabilitation center.
— image credit: Dan Richman/Whidbey News-Times

Prime waterfront property adjoining historical downtown Oak Harbor would become home to a three-level, 60,000-square-foot rehab center, with offices, retail space and a restaurant, under a plan put forward this week by an Anacortes man who runs four other health care facilities.

Jim Roe, president of Roe Family Facilities, said he is just waiting for a state certificate that the need exists for a 60-bed post-acute care rehab center before his development partner — Omega Healthcare Investors, a real estate investment trust in Hunt Valley, Md. — pays $1.5 million for most of the long-vacant land roughly bounded by Southeast Pioneer Way and Southeast Bayshore Drive, and by the imaginary southward extensions of Southeast Ireland Street and Southeast Jensen Street.

Roe and Joe Sladich, Roe Family Facilities’ community-development director, showed the company’s development plans to community leaders Thursday at a meeting of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

Though two leaders expressed some hesitation, the reaction overall was “very good,” Roe said afterwards.

“I just love this idea. It will fit right in.”

Roe said he thinks the facility — to be called Aviator Health and Rehab, in a nod to nearby Naval Air Station Whidbey Island — would be well situated.

“It’s such a beautiful site, it needs a facility like no other.”

According to preliminary plans, the building’s middle level, with its main entrance on Pioneer Way, would feature a landscaped plaza, offices, retail space, a coffee shop, a restaurant, a cafe and 20 patient rooms.

The lower floor, level with Bayshore Drive, would include covered parking, an employee entrance, laundry, kitchen and day care center for employees’ children.

The top floor — about 25 feet above Pioneer Way — would house 40 patient rooms.

Most of the rooms would offer a view of either the Cascades or the bay.

The facility would cost Omega roughly $15 million to construct, Roe said.

Employing about 120 full-time equivalent workers, the rehab center alone would bring roughly 80 workers into downtown Oak Harbor daily, Roe said.

The center will likely be full at all times, he predicted, bringing many visiting families downtown.

Rehab facilities are “really a missing piece” of the health care continuum on Whidbey Island, said Roe, who also runs Fidalgo Care Center, Rosario Assisted Living and San Juan Rehab & Care Center — all in Anacortes — and Shuksan Healthcare Center in Bellingham.

“In Anacortes, we serve 30 (rehab patients) a month from Whidbey Island because there’s no facility in Oak Harbor, so it’s very, very needed, and I think the state will concur,” Roe said.

The certificate of need could arrive within two to three months, he said.

The purchase-and-sale agreement needed to buy the necessary 2.5 acres of land has already been prepared, he said.

The land is owned by HJW Properties, LLC, of Portland, Ore., said Barbara Spohn, Oak Harbor’s economic development coordinator.

As Whidbey General Hospital completes its $50-million, 60,000-square foot expansion, the need for a local rehab facility will become even greater, Roe predicted. That’s because more Whidbey residents will remain on the island for medical care and so will want local rehab afterwards, rather than getting treatment at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett and then getting rehab in Anacortes or Mukilteo.

Omega owns San Juan Rehab & Care Center and Shuksan Healthcare Center, and it would own the Oak Harbor facility as well, Roe said.

Roe would enter a long-term lease with Omega to run the facility, and the businesses there would in turn rent from Roe.

Two community leaders attending Thursday’s chamber meeting weren’t quite as enthusiastic as Roe about the plan. The outstanding question seemed to be whether the rehab center is the highest, best use of the land.

It’s some of the choicest real estate in Oak Harbor, though it has been on the market for at least seven years.

“We do need rehab centers, but I’m not sure that’s the right location for it,” said Margaret Livermore, noting she spoke for herself and not as president of Oak Harbor’s Main Street Association.

Kathy Collantes, a Realtor and chamber board member, wondered aloud whether the facility “would fit well within the community.”

“I don’t know yet whether this does,” she said. “We asked some good questions at the meeting, but they weren’t answered.”

Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Christine Cribb called the plan “a phenomenal opportunity for some sustainable economy downtown.”

“Think of the people it will bring downtown to have lunch and shop. I’m excited about it.”

Other ideas for the land have been floated over the years, but none has come to fruition.

At one point, five local businesspeople contracted to buy 4.5 acres in the area for a waterfront hotel and convention center. It never happened.

The year 2008 saw a proposal to build a 450-seat performing arts center and a convention center there.

Same outcome.

The land has played host for at least 10 years to summer carnivals that Roe said his children attended. But the Chamber “said it’s flexible about moving that,” Roe said.


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