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MVHS could use eminent domain for downtown Utica hospital project

By Eric Reinhardt

Date:

UTICA, N.Y. — The Mohawk Valley Health System (MVHS) says the use of eminent domain “may be likely” as it pursues property acquisitions for its downtown Utica hospital project.

Of the 35 property owners, representing 72 parcels of land in the downtown project footprint, two property owners have indicated they “are not interested in any type of agreement,” MVHS said in a news release issued Wednesday.

“Although MVHS will be working to acquire as many properties as possible through negotiation and agreement, given the needs of the project, the use of eminent domain may be likely,” Traci Boris, VP and general counsel at MVHS, said in the release. “We have just begun to look into our options with respect to eminent domain. MVHS, as a nonprofit organization, does not have the authority to carry out this process, so we are working with elected officials to determine the process going forward. We are hopeful that by outlining this process, it provides more information for all property owners and we can come to an agreement on all the properties.”

New York State law “establishes the process used by an entity to acquire property under eminent domain,” according to MVHS.

MVHS and the Syracuse–based law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC (BSK), which is handling the property-acquisition process, continue to work with the property owners to finalize the agreements.

Of the remaining properties, seven property owners, representing 13 properties, have completed or are in the process of completing a signed, purchase-option agreement; 20 property owners are in active negotiations with MVHS; and six property owners have received purchase-option agreements but are not in active discussions with BSK or MVHS, the health-care organization said.

“We are pleased with the response we’ve received to this point and will continue our work with the property owners to finalize purchase-option agreements,” Robert Scholefield, executive VP and COO at MVHS, said in the release. “Now that the deadline has passed, we will start looking at our options to acquire properties from the few property owners who have not responded, in the event we are unable to reach an agreement.”

The most recent deadline for the purchase-option agreements for property owners within the footprint of the new, regional healthcare system ended was March 15.

#NoHospitalDowntown

The group calling itself “#NoHospitalDowntown” is opposed to the downtown Utica location for the hospital project.

On its website, www.nohospitaldowntown.com, the group on March 23 posted “The vast majority of property owners have no interest in selling. So as hospital administration, and government leaders, turn their backs on residents the community’s mood will only continue to disintegrate.”

The website also includes a section with at least 30 reasons why it doesn’t like the downtown area for the hospital project.

Jim Brock and Brett Truett are the group’s co-founders.

Project coordinator hire

MVHS also announced that the Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties has hired a project coordinator for the MVHS hospital project.

In this role, Joseph Wicks of Bouckville will help affected downtown Utica businesses identify potential options and funding for relocation.

The hiring followed an “extensive search process, in consultation with project partners,” MVHS said.

MVHS had previously said that the Community Foundation would hire and fund the position.

In addition to acting as a central point of contact for the downtown property owners, Wicks will act as a community liaison for a work group, comprised of representatives of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, Oneida County, City of Utica, Mohawk Valley EDGE, MVHS, and the Community Foundation.

Wicks previously served as community engagement lead coordinator & grant manager for Integrated Community Planning, Inc. of Oswego County.

He has more than a decade of experience in program development and coordination, business and community-stakeholder “engagement,” and related advocacy work, MVHS said.

As previously announced, the work group and project coordinator will meet “regularly to support the continued progress for the project and the downtown property owners.” Wicks will also work with MVHS, Mohawk Valley EDGE and community stakeholders on the development of reuse plans for the repurposing of the St. Elizabeth and St. Luke’s campuses.

Contact Reinhardt at ereinhardt@cnybj.com

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