By Patricia J. Malin
While construction and completion of a new downtown hospital is still three or four years away, the Mohawk Valley Health System continues to build up its public relations message.
MVHS recently invited the media to view a “mock up” of a typical patient room in the new hospital.
MVHS announced earlier this year that it is getting additional funding from The Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties, a local nonprofit agency, to aid MVHS in acquiring property from 23 business owners located in the proposed hospital’s downtown footprint.
There are 40 businesses in the downtown area where MVHS wants to build its facility, but only 23 of those businesses are active. The city owns the 17 remaining structures, most of which are vacant and dilapidated.
CF and MVHS announced the foundation would award up to $1 million in relocation funding for affected property owners in the project footprint. The money would help support businesses looking to relocate within the city or Oneida County.
Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri remains an enthusiastic supporter of the downtown hospital, saying it will help “transform downtown by economic development.” He praised MVHS for making an “investment” in downtown.
He pointed out that in recent years more businesses are locating downtown and spurring new development.
“With the new hospital, we’ll have more drugstores and restaurants. A medical campus will bring more medical offices and medical professionals into the city and improve the quality of life,” he said.
The next stop is for the city to retain and assist the businesses that will have to be uprooted. “It’s incumbent on the city to relocate those businesses in the city of Utica,” he added.
That’s where the CF comes in. It proposes to offer the business owners a cash incentive to relocate or to offset the expense of relocating.
Relocation assistance will be determined on a case-by-case basis. MVHS and Bond, Schoeneck & King, the law firm handling the property acquisition process, will remain the direct points of contact for any property acquisition communications.
MVHS also announced that property owners in the footprint of the new campus will not be responsible for cleaning up any environmental problems caused by previous owners.
The county recently began to undertake its state environmental quality review of those properties, a process that could take up to a year. MVHS said it will take care of any necessary environmental remediation once the property is acquired.
In addition to relocation assistance and remediation relief, officials announced a new full-time project coordinator will help affected businesses identify potential options and funding for relocation. The coordinator will be funded and employed by CF.
“The coordinator will also work with MVHS, MV Economic Development Growth Enterprises and community stakeholders on the development of plans for the repurposing of the St. Elizabeth Medical Center and St. Luke’s campuses,” an MVHS press release stated.
The downtown hospital is projected to have 373 beds and would cover 672,000 square feet on 25 acres opposite the Utica Memorial Auditorium on Oriskany Street, adjoining the Utica Police Department on Oriskany Street near Broadway, and encompassing parts of Seneca, Cornelia, Lafayette and Columbia streets.
In addition, city officials have discussed building a 1,550-car parking garage for the new hospital.
MVHS currently provides 700 beds. It consists of Faxton St. Luke’s Healthcare (370 acute care beds and 202 long-term care beds on two campuses) and St. Elizabeth Medical Center (201 acute care beds, two campuses).