First look: Construction starts on $66M, 33-story medical building in Tijuana

A Tijuana developer has started construction on a $66 million medical building that looks to take advantage of the medical tourism trade.

Cosmopolitan Group, known mostly for residential and hotel building in the city, said the 33-story building could be completed as soon as 2025. In addition to the medical facilities, the complex will include a hotel for visiting patients and families.

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Medical tourism in the border city is a successful business because seek out medical care, and plastic surgery, at significantly cheaper rates than in the US The project is a stone’s throw from the Abraham Lincoln monument in the Americans Zona Rio neighborhood, home to a shopping mall, Costco and the circular Tijuana Cultural Center. It is expected to match, or be slightly higher, than Tijuana’s current height building, the 404-feet Sayan Campestre condo tower.

“We are betting on Tijuana,” said Solomon Saul, Cosmopolitan Group commercial director, during a tour of the site Wednesday.

The new building, called Cosmopolitan Health District, will compete with the NewCity Medical Plaza, a 26-story complex that opened in 2020, with doctors’ offices, a medical lab, a surgery center and a 140-room hotel. NewCity, developed by Abadi Group, is only about 3,000 feet from the border — easily viewable from the American side and within walking distance of the border. Cosmopolitan Health is just under two miles, requiring a taxi or ride-hailing service to get there, but it is in an area with a lot more to do, possibly appealing more to affluent Mexicans.

Both projects are aimed at medical care for wealthier residents of the city and for Americans who many times have health insurance but find procedures cheaper in Mexico. There are also a lot of plastic surgery options and a few procedures that might find greater scrutiny in the United States.

Cosmopolitan Health will feature three floors of below-ground parking and 10 floors above ground. The emergency room will be on the first few levels, with 200 medical suites and 160 hotel rooms from a Residence Inn by Marriott that make up the top half of the complex. Cosmopolitan decided to sell 150 suites directly to doctors (not investors) for an average $166,500 for a roughly 490-square-foot medical suite. Saul said 60 percent have sold. The other 50 suites will be rentals.

Cosmopolitan Health will add to a growing list of skyscrapers that have transformed the city in the last decade. In addition to Cosmopolitan Health and Sayan Campestre (both around 404 feet), NewCity Medical Plaza is 387 feet and two residential towers under construction will join the list of the city’s tall buildings: Link Residential (393 feet) and The Landmark Tijuana (390 feet) ).

“The city is growing incredibly quickly,” said Chris Clark, director of the Urban Land Institute’s San Diego-Tijuana branch. “The city is definitely going vertical.”

He said medical tourism and manufacturing seem to be making up the lion’s share of growth these days but it’s hard to tell with new buildings popping up everywhere. The institute’s 2022 Real Estate Trends Report said its members are positive about growth in Tijuana because it is cheaper than California (65 percent successful), incomes are rising (30 percent) and it’s quicker to get built (15 percent).

Developing a project in Tijuana can take a couple of years, from approvals to securing land, but that’s in extreme contrast to large San Diego buildings that can take a decade or longer to come to market.

Saul said he thinks Cosmopolitan Health will change how people view medical tourism in the border city. Its partner in the project is Hospitales Puerta de Hierro, a private hospital company with five locations throughout Mexico. One of its selling points is it belongs to the Mayo Clinic Care Network. The program, from one of the US’s most revered medical centers, allows hospitals outside its headquarters to access specialists virtually or by phone.

The Mayo Clinic Care Network has 46 members and mainly operates in the United States, but has around a dozen member hospitals in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, India and China. Palomar Health in Escondido is also a member.

In addition to being able to call up Mayo Clinic doctors about patient questions, medical professionals at hospitals can take continuing education classes and have access to the clinic’s latest research. It’s not like patients are actually going to the Mayo Clinic, all member hospitals are still independently operated, but Saul said it will be a selling point to patients.

Cosmopolitan Group has good reason to try and calm nerves about medical tourism. A US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigation linked a drug-resistant infection of 34 American patients to one Tijuana facility in 2018 and 2019. The Mexican government shut down the facility in 2019.

Still, it is in the financial interest of the Tijuana medical industry to avoid unsafe conditions and infections outlined in the CDC report, and plastic surgery problems reported last year, to keep patients coming back. The industry was estimated to be valued at $6.75 billion in 2021, said Statista, a significant increase from $1.5 billion in 2005.

Leigh Turner, executive director of the bioethics program at the University of California-Irvine, said it is important to keep in mind the pitfalls of medical tourism. He said a lot of the time patients are stuck with only promotional materials for a doctor instead of actual statistics, there are often good reasons why a procedure is not approved in their home country, post-operation care can be lacking and there is lack of legal recourse if something goes wrong.

The US CDC recommends Americans thinking of traveling abroad for care should speak to their local healthcare provider first and get travel health insurance, which can cover medical evacuation back to America.

An additional layer of protection might be Hospitales Puerta de Hierro reviewing all doctors seeking space at Cosmopolitan Health to make sure all their certificates are in working order. Of 200 applications, the hospital has only approved 60 doctors to move into the facility.

Cosmopolitan Health is expected to have an economic impact, especially considering the site of the building was previously underused as a parking lot and political offices. Saul said the Health District will create more than 2,500 direct and indirect jobs.

A rendering of what a possible medical suite could look like at Cosmopolitan Health District.

(Cosmopolitan Health District.)

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