OLBH to give IPA old hospital

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 14, 2006

Partnership to focus on constructing upscale housing

By Michael Caldwell/The Ironton Tribune

River Valley Hospital helped save lives. Now, a public-private partnership plans to center around building lives on those same grounds.

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Officials with the Ironton Port Authority, the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization and Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital have announced plans to work together to raze the building and develop upscale, residential housing on the 5-acre site in south Ironton.

Long road

This particular project has been in the works since last fall, but the hospital building has been the center of attention for more than five years.

River Valley closed in January 2001 under a mountain of debt and amidst cries of mismanagement.

In September 2002, OLBH purchased the building located at 2228 S. Ninth St. for $5 million and expressed intentions of opening a hospital but those plans later changed due to the building conditions and other factors.

Hospital officials received much criticism while the facility remained empty but said they hope to show their good intentions by giving the property to the IPA to promote economic development.

OLBH CEO Mark Gordon said finding the right use for the facility was the key, a use that met the hospital’s mission of helping people and still benefited the community.

“As a catholic organization, it feels good to have a use that is consistent with the mission of Bon Secours and that is to help people but one that is also as wide as paying attention to human needs outside of just health,” Gordon said. “One of those needs is safe, affordable, quality housing. We hope this helps bring people, jobs and helps provide for families.”

For Bill Dickens, director of the IPA organization that serves as the city’s economic development arm, this project will give the city yet another tool to promote itself.

“It makes our job considerably easier. It is just a stimulus to see the community revitalizing itself, on the upswing rather than just staying stagnant,” Dickens said, emphasizing that sale of the property could give the volunteer-operated IPA much-needed funds to use as matching dollars for other grants and for a full-time administrator.

“This project is very stimulating and progressive. It will certainly help us market the community and bring jobs to Ironton.”

Work ahead

The entire project is contingent upon the award of a $750,000 Clean Ohio Assistance Fund grant from the Ohio Department of Development. Those funds would be used to pay for much of the demolition, asbestos abatement and site preparation.

Pending approval of the grant request, OLBH will have the building demolished and removed and then donate the approximate 5-acre site to the IPA to make way for the planned residential neighborhood.

In addition to the actual donation, OLBH has spent more than $50,000 to initiate environmental site assessments and pledged up to $100,000 in additional funds to return the site to developable property.

“By being watchful stewards of our resources, we have been able to pursue this plan as a great opportunity for the city,” Gordon said, adding that the hospital has also taken a tax burden from city residents by paying more than $50,000 a year in taxes.

“The donation of the property will meet the hospital’s religious mission, which extends beyond benefit and care to individuals, but to the benefit of the communities we serve. We believe the donation of the property to the city will be of great benefit to Ironton, and we’re pleased to be part of this partnership.”

Exactly what type of housing the project may ultimately lead has not been determined. The IPA would sell the property to developers who could determine their exact plans, though all the homes would have to be comparable to the neighborhood it is in along Kemp Street, Dickens said.

“We will want input from the community on the type of housing options that are most needed” Dickens said, adding that it too early to say if that will be individual homes or condo-style structures or a combination. “We want local input and we want to seek local developers.”

Ralph Kline, assistant executive director of the CAO, said it might be simplest to divide the property into lots. He added that all the infrastructure is in place and that quality housing is definitely a need for the community.

County Commissioner George Patterson agrees that quality housing could help the Ironton-area attract business and industry.

“Anytime you have got a building just sitting, if that space can be used for something productive for the city and the county, it is a positive,” Patterson said.

Though he would have loved to see it developed into a hospital, Patterson said it really wasn’t the best place for one and that plans for a new hospital have not been shelved.

“Things are still moving ahead on that,” he said.

Meanwhile, the demolition of the old facility may

even run parallel to recommendations a community panel made three years ago.

In 2003, OLBH formed a “Blue Ribbon Panel” to look at options for the facility. The recommendations included a medical plaza or medical training facility as well as several different types of housing options.

“What we are doing now, is not inconsistent with what a pretty significant group of community leaders said is an option,” Gordon said, adding that the panel deserved praise for their hard work in focusing on a challenging problem.

On the horizon

The first steps in the application process will begin Monday when the IPA is expected to pass a resolution in support of the redevelopment plan at its regular monthly board of directors meeting.

The group will then seek the blessing of the Ironton City Council, something Dickens said he is confident the project will receive. The IPA and CAO will submit the grant application in August.

Grant awards from the Clean Ohio Assistance Fund come from $400 million approved by voters in November 2000 dedicated to redevelopment activities to improve the economic climate in Ohio’s older communities by encouraging new investment, innovative land use and job retention and


Kline said he is optimistic that the project is exactly the type that the state is looking to fund.

“It has several things going for it. One, it takes care of a community problem — a facility that needs dealt with,” he said. “The thing that makes it competitive is the reuse of the land. The state always looks at the impact and benefit to a community and I think this project makes a strong case.”

The project is still in early phases so it is difficult to establish a timeline. Kline said the grant process would likely take nine months with several public meetings and opportunity for input, putting demolition in spring 2007 — if awarded the grants — with construction not likely to begin until 2008.

Representatives from all three organizations were all smiles and visibly pleased with being able to announce this next step in returning the former River Valley site to a contributing part of the community.

All were optimistic about the future and were united in the approach.

“This is a very positive step forward for Ironton,” Dickens said.

“Through a collaboration, which I think is very important,” Gordon said.

Kline capped the thought.

“It goes to show that when you work together and bring about sufficient resources that you can solve a problem for the greater good of the community.”