STERLING – The new Sterling VA Outpatient Clinic is opening Monday in the long-vacant Kmart building on East Lincolnway.
Highlands Development LLC of Kansas City, Missouri, bought the building at 2901 E. Lincolnway for $1 million about two years ago, with plans to redevelop it and the other empty buildings on the site into a mix of business and retail space.
The Veterans Administration is its first tenant, and the clinic, part of the VA Iowa City Healthcare System, is the anchor for the site.
The VA is moving its outpatient clinic at 406 Ave. C downtown into 17,600 square feet of leased space at this site across from Northland Mall.
That will nearly double its size, so in addition to its current offerings, the new VA outpatient clinic also will have a larger, dedicated physical therapy space with a gym, a lab for the radiology department, and more space to provide mental health care.
A home-based primary care unit also is being added, which means some veterans will be getting house calls, although virtually at first.
The clinic also used the opportunity to add newer, upgraded equipment.
All told, the project will cost about $2.5 million.
Mayor Skip Lee was among the dignitaries to get a tour of the clinic after a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday.
“It’s a beautiful new facility,” Lee said, noting the subtle changes to the exterior, and maybe a need for bigger signage.
The clinic expansion was necessitated by injuries, mental and physical, suffered in the recent wars, and by the growing aging population, he said.
Like the smaller clinic before it, the new facility will eliminate the need for some veterans to travel to the Iowa City VA complex for treatment, especially with the new services being offered.
“That trip to Iowa City isn’t always a convenient one,” Lee said. Plus, “it continues to show that our money is where our mouth is when it comes to honoring veterans.”
It also shows the benefits of public-private partnerships, he said, noting that the city helped by providing incentives for the site to be developed, including creating a special business district for the area.
“All of us working together have produced this kind of thing,” he said.
“As mayor, I’m hoping that development in the old Kmart might spur interest in the mall across the street. Maybe this will make it more attractive for a buyer to come in and develop it.”
He also had praise for U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos’ role in helping secure funds and make sure the project moved forward.
The East Moline Democrat “has been a phenomenal advocate for taking care of our veterans,” Lee said.
Bustos noted the need for such care, especially in rural areas where it often is difficult to come by because of the challenges in recruiting specialists and mental health care providers.
We need to “do right by those in the military. We just got out of a 20-year war,” she said. “It’s important to care for people where they live in a meaningful way.”
She also was impressed by the remodeling, noting how old the building looked before.
It is nearly five decades old — Kmart opened in July 1973, and Monday’s opening is coming one day before the eighth anniversary of its closure, on Jan. 11, 2014.
The current clinic building, which opened next door to County Market in November 2011, will become the Illinois Department of Employment Security’s new Sterling office.
The Sterling VA Outpatient Clinic phone number remains 815-632-6200.