10:49 PM PDT on Tuesday, July 27, 2010

By JACK KATZANEK
The Press-Enterprise

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of the biggest boosters Tuesday when officials triggered the demolition of the first building to make way for the proposed $3.7 billion March LifeCare campus.

The project could ultimately bring as many as 7,200 permanent jobs to the former March Air Force Base, at a health-care complex that will be anchored by a medical center, the project developer said. The ambitious plans call for a wide range of other medical buildings on the grounds of the former base, including facilities for senior citizens and retirees for ambulatory care patients.

Eventually the complex near Moreno Valley also could include a hotel and retail locations.

The first step is the removal of some 40 older buildings, a process that began with a ceremony presided over by Schwarzenegger near the intersection of Riverside Drive and Cactus Avenue. Two pieces of heavy equipment demolished the old Air Force child care center that most recently housed the Somerset Academy for special education students.

Transformation

The governor said the efforts could turn the former base property into what he called “The Mayo Clinic of the West.”

“We’re celebrating something no one has ever done in the world. We’re building the first health and wellness city,” said Schwarzenegger, who flew in to March Air Reserve Base.

Schwarzenegger was the first to sign a small portion of a stucco wall salvaged from the soon-to-be-demolished building that was used as a memento of the day’s events.

The governor lauded the efforts of the project developers and the March Joint Powers Authority, the agency charged with redeveloping former Air Force base property. He also brought his top economic development adviser, Joel Ayala, director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Schwarzenegger said the state is encouraging the March redevelopment by streamlining the lengthy permitting process.

‘We’re getting calls’

Ayala said the March project is attracting a lot of attention.

“We’re getting calls from other communities asking us about what we’re doing at March,” Ayala said. “They’re asking, ‘Can we emulate this?’ If this works, we have a model.”

St. Bernardine Medical Center, along with its parent company Catholic Healthcare West, and Riverside Medical Clinic are in discussions with March Healthcare Development, the developer of March LifeCare, to create a plan to provide and operate the hospital.

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