Darwin Miles has brokered and developed several commercial developments in O’Fallon and Shiloh over the past 24 years. The Freeburg native says he started out in real estate “with a dented car and a lot of drive.” He has been behind the land acquisitions and development of retail, restaurants, hospitals, hotels, banks, upscale apartment complexes and office space in the area. He recently invited business writer Will Buss to his office to discuss these developments, his vision for Southwestern Illinois and the recent culmination of what he calls the “Medical Mile”:
What is the Medical Mile?
“The health care culminated in the Medical Mile, the medical campus synergy, brings attention to the area unlike anything else. It’s not disjointed. The synergy allows people from any place in the country to discuss the Illinois Medical Mile with two hospitals with two health care groups and that gets their attention as well as the ‘Healthcare Highway.’ These are alliterations that help immensely, and you can’t get those until you develop that density of health care facilities and get that synergy. That is important to the area. That’s where the Medical Mile comes from, the one-mile radius of Green Mount Road and I-64.”
How did you attract this new development from the health care industry?
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“The ground-breaking at St. Elizabeth’s was the latest example of that. In my perspective, it was the culmination of about 17, 18 years of trying to bring health care into the 21st Century in the O’Fallon-Shiloh area, starting back with St. Elizabeth’s Urgicare, which I was fortunate enough to be involved with the site selection for St. Elizabeth’s. I represented St. Elizabeth’s in that. At the same time, I was trying to bring health care to the region and looked at St. Louis and saw what they had and worked with BJC to make a major investment over here, not so much to compete with St. Elizabeth’s and Memorial, but rather to increase the availability of technology and the quality of health care. That has come full swing with BJC purchasing a large tract of land in 2008, which I’m sure moved Memorial and St. Elizabeth’s a little quicker into moving up their projects, which needed to be done and was just a matter of time. That brought the other physician groups in and ancillary health care that is really the support that becomes the most important and brings specialists, like the Heartland Women’s Healthcare. It brings good physician groups in like that and it brings BJC and SSM, which introduces more physicians in the area. And it continues on.”
What is your background in commercial real estate?
“Miles Properties has done business in four states. I did a lot of business outside of the area in my earlier days. In the early ’90s, I started re-concentrating back into the O’Fallon-Shiloh area. I was asked by a business man to identify some areas for potential development. I owned a little firm at that time that specialized in commercial real estate and retail. So I identified 30 acres at I-64 and Hartman Lane, at exit 14. The businessman purchased the property and then he asked if I could lay out and design a development that would use the 30 acres with future growth in mind. I did that and went out and I laid out Wehrenberg Theatre and then introduced it to Wehrenberg and immediately, from the morning I introduced it at 6:30 in the morning during a presentation at Wehrenberg’s main headquarters in Manchester, we started negotiations from day one. They liked the design I laid out and that started with adding restaurants and car dealers, including the infrastructure that was in a very rural-looking area that was all agricultural at that time. I designed what went from Hartman Lane all the way down to what was then Schweagel Road, which is now Green Mount. At that time, Green Mount was only Green Mount up to Belleville Area College.”
What other developments have you been a part of in the area?
“There is Central Park Plaza. There is Green Mount Crossing, with Dierbergs and Target. There is Parkway 64, that is the office park. Then, to the north is Regency Park. That’s where the Hilton Garden Inn and the Regency Conference Center is. There’s kind of four sections to it. I was fortunate enough to start working in this area in 1991 on the commercial side. I had worked with Ford to put a Ford dealership where Auffenberg is now, but was Schantz Ford at the time. That was in 1991. Before anything on the southwest side of exit 14 was done, I was already laying out businesses along the southeast quadrant and brokered that and sold that to Ron Schantz.”
What has motivated you to drive development in this area?
“I become more aware of the Missouri side really looking down on Southwestern Illinois. It motivated me to say, ‘Hey, we are part of the St. Louis metropolitan statistical area, and we have a great place to live. I’d much rather live in the smaller communities on the Illinois side than the suburbs on the west side. That’s nothing against it, and I’m not parochial. Parochialism has held the entire St. Louis MSA back, and it’s also very prevalent on the Illinois side. But in order to attract the types of businesses for a lifestyle center on the Illinois side, it had to start along the interstate, which was simply because of transportation. This was before light rail started. It was close to Scott Air Force Base, which was a major generator.”
What do these developments offer current and prospective businesses and residents?
“What we have here in 2015 will offer the area the foundation for a lot of growth and jobs. It has all of the amenities. Now, we have health care there. It’s not just a lifestyle center, it’s a lifestyle area. A lot of the people who are moving into the area, young professionals and corporate CEOs, they look for this and apartment complexes. When I was rezoning that area where Green Mount Lakes Apartments is, I thought I was going to get rocks and tomatoes thrown at me in getting the zoning. The business man whom I represented said, ‘You don’t have to take this abuse.’ The schools came out and they wanted to hang me because I wanted to put apartments there. They thought of apartments as low income and full of children, and I told them I would do what I said I was going to do and try to get higher-end apartments. Young professionals want to live in these apartments. If you wanted to move from all of the small towns in Southwestern Illinois and move over to Missouri to get an apartment developed with some nice amenities, they could do it. But they may want to live along the interstate because they work in St. Louis, but they may have a family in Germantown, and they want something in between and a place that has Gold’s Gym, a place that has Starbucks, a place that has Dierbergs and place that has a movie theater. It’s lifestyle. It’s a mixed-use development, and it’s really a lifestyle development that supports a large regional area.”
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2526.
Job: Owner, real estate developer, Miles Properties Inc. in O’Fallon
Outlook: “I always believed that this was a good area for families to grow into.”