Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Regional Hospital: Why Downtown? Why Not the Former Psych Center on York?

Ahh, Money!  Lots and Lots of Money!  If it comes in too easily or unexpectedly, there is a tendency to get "crazy"  - to "splurge" --  to spend it quickly without thinking of all the consequences.

We've seen this craziness at the O.C. Airport, where the availability of $10's of millions of Federal dollars caused us to abandon a perfectly good airport for one that has become a costly nightmare to maintain, and an excuse for $10s of millions of additional local taxpayer "investments."

Now we may be seeing craziness again with the proposal of a regional Downtown Hospital due to a surprise "gift" of $300 million from the Cuomo administration. While we should be grateful to Whomever had the Governor's ear after years of the State ignoring us, we should not take leave of our senses when determining how or where to spend the money. . . The sidebar to the OD article gives the politicians' positives of the hospital being located Downtown.

How about the negatives?

1) Removal of multiple parcels of properties from the tax rolls.  Can Utica taxpayers really absorb more loss of taxable properties after about 70 parcels were taken for the Arterial expansion plus more for the Centro "hub" and a new County parking lot?

2) Further disruption of the street grid. To get a large enough parcel, some local streets will have to be discontinued. It will be like a large urban renewal project. Street eliminations will make what remains in Downtown less "pedestrian friendly," less "auto friendly," and, therefore, less likely to be redeveloped by tax-paying private interests.

3) The probability is that locating a large number of hospital employees Downtown will NOT spur private development.  People will go to work, then go home. A large hospital will have its own cafeteria. Did the State Office Building create a "boom" over what was previously in the neighborhood?  Did the new downtown Utica Mutual office spur development? Do you see a lot of private development around St. Luke's Hospital? The answer to all these questions is no.

4) The decreased use of the three current hospital sites.  This is unavoidable no matter where the new hospital is located.  Looking at what has happened in the neighborhood of the last hospital site so treated, the Psych Center on York Street, should give pause to those thinking that the sites to be left behind will not create new sets of problems. It should also make people question whether a $300M "gift" will be worth the disruption.

Regardless, if we must proceed with a Regional Hospital, a Downtown site presents significant risks as noted above.

Another potential site that has been mentioned is the Murnane Field area.  While placing the hospital on what is now a recreation area might decrease impacts to the City's tax base, it would destroy the current use of the site -- a use consistent with the Olmstead vision for Utica's Park System,  a vision that has worked very well for City residents for more than a century.  (Moving Murnane to the Harbor area as some have proposed may fail.  Why was McConnell Field, formerly at the harbor, abandoned?)  Why should Uticans have to give something up to get the $300 million gift?

The good thing is that the politicians seem to agree that the hospital should be in Utica where it would be closest to the center of the regional population.  So is there a Utica location that minimizes negatives and risks? 

The former Psych Center site on York St. between Court and Noyes seems to fill the bill: 

(1) No taxable property will be lost.
(2) The site is large enough, requiring no streets to be discontinued.
(3) No current uses of the site would have to be discontinued.
(4) The site is accessible, being easily reached via the street grid, on existing bus routes,  and only a few blocks from the new Court St. Interchange under construction. (A reopening of the York-Burrstone intersection could improve access.)
(5) The site's new use would be institutional healthcare, which is consistent with the old use.  That makes the site consistent and non-disruptive to the neighborhood which grew up around it.
(6) The blight on the former Psych Center site would be removed.

If there are any negatives to this site what are they? The only impediment would seem to be getting state agencies to give up some turf --  but this would be an easy way for them to off-load the burden of maintaining abandoned facilities.  Are there any other negatives?

Why not the York St. Psych Center site?


Anonymous said...

Knock down Faxton and rebuild on that site. This would make the most sense, but we can't have that here in Oneida County.

Instead our political so called leaders will insist that we build where access is difficult, more costly and of course with limited parking. That is how we roll .... unfortunately it is usually backwards.

Anonymous said...

Question I have with the state hospital grounds is, how much of that campus on the Historic Registry? I know Old Main is but are there other buildings too?