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Shifting the Heartland: Deep Lake's Sustainable, Integrated Resort Community & Clinic in Michigan PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   
Thursday, 13 December 2007

Shifting the Heartland: Deep Lake's Plan for a Sustainable, Integrated Resort Community and Clinic in Michigan

SummaryWhen the heartland shifts, that's when the nation leaps forward. So assert Meg LaRou and Russ Valvo, the founders of the ambitious Deep Lake project near Battle Creek, Michigan. Deep Lake is a combination of destination resort and spa, integrated wellness center, and residential community. The project is planned as an eco-friendly, restorative and sustainable enterprise which will appeal not just to the well-to-do but also to the region's "mid-market." Deep Lake's team includes University of Michigan integrative medicine leaders Sara Warber, MD and Rita Benn, PhD. Peter Amato and the Inner Harmony Group are consulting on the business model for the integrated wellness services. L. Hunter Lovins, the natural capitalism leader, is an adviser. Is Pennfield County, Michigan ready for this?  
Send your comments to
for inclusion in a future Your Comments article.

Image
Deep Lake
1.    The parlor game: with these souls, what would you create?

Imagine a parlor game that went something like this:
We are going to give you the names of a half dozen people who are going to lend their expertise to a team. They are to be involved in a project. The names are:


Your question is this: What is a mission that would engage this group? With what sort of project would these individuals be involved?
Please note: Suggesting "a most interesting dinner party" will be considered non-responsive.
2.   The Proposition: Serve Holism and Sustainability to the Heartland's Middle Class

One would guess, given these names, that the project would have something to do with health, with holism, with energy efficiency and sustainability, with teaching and relaxation. How about a mission which reads: To create a resort community which enhances emotional, physical and spiritual health based in harmony with the natural world. 

This is the actual mission statement of a new project under development over the last 4 years with which these 6 individuals, and others, are involved. The ambitious project
plan is on a 313 acre parcel which will eventually combine a resort retreat, an integrative health center and a village of 137 homes.

Image
Visionary community developers Meg LaRou & Russ Valvo
Surprisingly, the project is not in Palm Springs, in Costa Rica, in Hawaii, in Florida, or in Sedona, Arizona. The project under development is in the heart of the United States, on rolling hills surrounding five lakes, within 90 minutes drive of the well-known New Age communities as Lansing, Battle Creek and Grand Rapids.
The unusual location of the project is matched by a non-normal focus. Most spa and resort developments focus on serving the wealthy. The business model for this community is based on a belief that these concepts of holism, sustainability and respect for nature will play well to a "mid-market" clientele.

This project, Deep Lake, was initiated by two
visionary entrepreneurs, Meg LaRou and Russ Valvo. The name is that of the center-most lake around which the resort and community will be nestled. Other key advisors and partners include experienced developers, builders, as well as integrated care and holistic leaders like Jeanne Achterberg, PhD, Robert Rountree, MD and Jean Houston, PhD.

Said Valvo in an Integrator interview: "When the heartland shifts, that's when the nation leaps forward. Our ability to create a fully integrative community here will impact the entire nation."

____________________________

The Deep Lake Initiative At a Glance

Location

Michigan
(between Battle Creek,
Chicago, and Detroit)
Acreage
313
Lakes

5
New Jobs

50-70
Target clientele

Mid-market
Midwesterners
     
To be built components:


Resort hotel
122 rooms initially;
100 later
Homes

137
$200,000-$600,000)
Spa/integrative clinic

20,000 square feet
Clinic strategist

Inner Harmony Group
Restaurant

Gourmet Natural foods
Deep Lake Institute

501c3 entity
to support programs
and research
     
Open space   80% of the acreage
     
Values

Health, holism, nature,
harmony, restoration,
sustainability
     

_______________________________________


3.   The view from Pennfield Township

On October 25, 2007, the board of supervisors of Michigan's Pennfield Township
approved a special use permit for Deep Lake LLC. The article, reported in the Pennfield Township Enquirer ("Deep Lake project marries development, conservation") included a quote from the planning commissioner: "I think this is a feather in the township's cap. They are spending extra money to make sure this development has a very low impact on the land. This will be a very positive thing for Pennfield Township." The supportive article ticks off a series of factoids that the journalist thought would be of interest to her readers.

  • ImageLaRou and Valvo researched possibilities around the continental US, in Hawaii and Costa Rica, before selecting the Michigan property.
  • They spent 4 years assembling their team of engineers and consultants.
  • The center of the project "is the Deep Lake Wellness Resort, with a wellness facility led by physicians trained in a holistic approach."
  • Among the treatments available at the resort and integrated wellness center "will be massage therapy, acupuncture and multiday health and wellness seminars."
  • Homes will be in clustered residential developments, costing $200,000-$600,000, leaving most of the land and its wetlands free of development: "The development will use the latest green strategies in building, drainage and energy use."
  • When the resort, health center and "gourmet health restaurant" are operating, the operation will employ 50-70 people.

The reporter suggested that Pennfield Township will experience the development as "a place where residents learn about protecting the environment through sustainable development, alternative medicine and living a healthy lifestyle." What is on its way, with the board's decision, is "a proposed health and wellness center and residential community that LaRou and Valvo said will change the way people think about sustainable development."

4.   The Deep Lake Wellness Center

LaRou and Valvo early on brought Warber, an experienced integrative clinic operator, and Rita Benn, PhD, her associate at the University of Michigan, into their core planning groups. They began looking for a partner to develop and manage the integrated wellness services.

For this, LaRou and Valvo brought in Amato and his associate with Inner Harmony Group (IHG), Steve Szydlowski, PhD. IHG, an Integrator sponsor, has become part of Deep Lake's core team, with responsibility for developing the community's wellness business strategy and operations. The clinic wil be co-housed in a 20,000 square foot facility with the spa offerings.
Said LaRou: "The experience will be seamless between the medical and the spa side."

Image
Russ Valvo
Clinical services will be offered by an integrative physician and diverse complementary healthcare practitioners. The medical director has not yet been identified. Said LaRou: "It's a dream opportunity for the right medical director." The clinical services orientation, while including medical services, is health-focused. The business plan developed by IHG includes this mission statement:
"To provide a wellness experience and comprehensive plan for each patient utilizing the best of integrative medicine and natural approaches to healing that guides and empowers individuals toward obtaining optimum health and well-being."
A follow-up Integrator article will explore the clinical services with Amato and Szydlowski. The bottom line forecasts are for revenues in the first year to originate roughly 9% from nearby communities, 22% from repeat visitors and nearly 58% from hotel and resort clientele. The remaining 10% will be revenues from products.

5.   Possible model: building a package of integrated wellness services into housing prices

LaRou and Valvo are exploring various strategies for interweaving the components of the village and resort. One challenge is to ensure the new residents are comfortable and familiar with the complementary and integrative services offered through the proposed Deep Lake Wellness Center.

Valvo shared that the team is "thinking of building a package of services into the price of the home." Under discussion is a grouping that might include a comprehensive evaluation with the lead clinician, a set of spa visits and a series of visits to utilize the modalities and care of nutritionists, acupuncture and Oriental medicine specialists and other natural medicine practitioners.

Said Valvo: "We want the people we serve to end up with a plan for their lives that is beyond what they have thought of before.
This will be a new model for healthful living and learning in the 21st century."
 

Image
Meg LaRou, on the land
6.   The role of the Deep Lake Institute

LaRou, Valvo and their teams realized that meeting all of their goals inside Deep Lake, and as a national model, meant adding another component to their project: a not-for-profit, 501c3 organization.
They created the Deep Lake Institute as an academic, research and educational entity. They are looking at various out-of-the-box and conventional funding sources:

  • percent of hotel and resort revenues
  • percent of home sales
  • profits on the wellness and spa services
  • foundations
  • contributions from small donors

LaRou notes that the Institute has sponsored several day-long and weekend programs through which they began cultivating relationships with local philanthropic organizations and universities.

7.    From "transformation" to "linking wellness and nature"

Valvo, looking back, states bluntly: "I'm so glad we didn't build four years ago. Our plans have changed a lot."  One change has been the cut line beneath the Deep Lake logo. When the two first announced their intention, their focus was on education. The Deep Lake project would be a "pathway to transformation." Now, thoroughly ensconced in the resort and residential components, they announce Deep Lake this way: "linking wellness and nature."

The positioning of their eco-smart building strategies also shifted. They originally focused on "environmentally sensitive homes." Their thinking switched to "energy smart." Now, says Valvo, "what we're learning is that what's up for people is simply healthy homes."

Image
Another view of the property
Deep Lake's roads are staked. Zoning approval has come in from the township. 250 people have come on formal visits to the site. 15 have put down money to have priority rights to homes. Additional engineering will take place this winter. Ground breaking is slated for this spring. The first homes are planned to be available by fall.

It's not all a lock, yet. LaRou and Valvo still need to find some additional investment partners to build out the resort and wellness center. And then there is the business of finding just the right integrative medical doctor who will want to work with them to realize this dream of transformation and change agency in the US heartland. Interested?

Coming next: The Inner Harmony Group on Strategic Thinking Behind the Deep Lake Wellness Center.

Comments: I had the opportunity to learn of this project via Deep Lake's advisers Rita Benn and Sara Warber nearly two years ago and so have had a chance to observe the journey from afar. While my own Costa Rica experience makes me wonder what locos they were to leave Central American for Michigan,  great kudos to LaRou and Valvo for choosing both the heartland and especially the "mid-market" for their project. I grew up with a holiday story in which a wise narrator opines that "old Sandy Claus do believe in spreading the good stuff around." I know that, to continue to make it so with this unique project, they are open to real interest regarding both integrative physician services and investment.

Send your comments to
for inclusion in a future Your Comments forum.


Last Updated ( Thursday, 13 December 2007 )
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