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Orlando Preparing for Second Medical City



An architect's idea to build a self-contained medical city in Central Florida began as a training project for her design team working out of her Lake Nona office headquarters.

The concept gained surprising traction and escalated quickly to the announcement of PONTE HEALTH's plan to break ground for site work and foundations for downtown Orlando's first Vertical Medical City next summer.

At 540 feet tall, upon approval by the FAA, the proposed three-tower complex covers about 2 million square feet and represents the tallest project in the metro area, extending 100 feet higher than SunTrust's tower. It also marks downtown Orlando's first LEED platinum project.

"The conceptual design-team exercise ... to provide stepped care, from preventive to critical ... wasn't meant to be developed," said Tabitha Ponte, AIA, founder and lead architect at PONTE HEALTH in Orlando, whose brainstorming mission resulted in the creation of what she hopes will provide seniors with a cohesive living experience, a higher quality of life and easier access to medical care. "(The work) kept going until we surpassed probably 420 hours collectively. By that point, we started getting a lot of attention."

Ponte had been disturbed by the lack of suitable options for Central Florida's aging population.

"In this culture, we isolate our elders into retirement homes with poor conditions," she said. "We disrupt their circadian rhythms because they can't go outside nearly enough.

"We can do better for them."

Leadership at the City of Orlando was positive and supportive, along with local economic developers and healthcare executives. The project received an unexpected major boost from a major health system. The healthcare system, whose identity Ponte declined to disclose, demonstrated interest in leasing the smallest tower in the complex. The property being negotiated for the project is a part of the Orlando metro core, the downtown business district.

"That was the most significant piece ... I knew then we had a winning development," said Ponte, who sought input from a wide variety of professionals and experts. As a result, the tallest tower is reserved for physicians and medical offices, while the mid-size tower will house patient-focused assisted living, memory care and hospice care.

An indoor urban farm, on-site fitness center and pool are among the tri-plex's planned amenities.

"Medical experts of all kinds are lending suggestions," said Ponte. For example, "a neuroscientist will be part of making better environments for degenerative neuromuscular conditions."

The latest updates by the development team include the selection of the general contractor to carry out the vertical construction, company yet to be disclosed, and the disclosure of a partnership with The Local Chef -Chef Michael Sterner, who was once executive chef for Florida Hospital. Chef Michael Sterner will help design the facilities as well as develop and lead the operations of the farm-to-table concept for the tri-plex.

The high-rise development will focus on integrating the most advanced technology into the building design.

"Big data is a big issue for this project," she said. "We're thinking along the lines of artificial intelligence ... GPS, internal social media, internal scanning and biometrics."

The technology development team, led by Jonathan Mendez of M2O Technologies of Lake Nona, will lead the new implementation of various software and hardware devices, including wearables, to facilitate the operations of the facility, track waste for lean adjustments in operations, improve processes and predict trends.

The proposed timeline calls for occupancy early 2024.

"It will literally be a true, self-contained medical city," said Ponte.

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