Syracuse-based Bowers Development has a signed purchase agreement for 411 Columbia St. in Utica, city officials said.
But if the Oneida County Industrial Development Agency (OCIDA) follows through with possible eminent domain to acquire the property for the Mohawk Valley Health System, the developer may seek legal remedies against OCIDA.
OCIDA voted August 20 to have staff look into the legal right to use eminent domain to acquire the property, which is currently home to J.P. O’Brien Plumbing and Heating and is within the hospital footprint.
Hospital officials said the Columbia Street property is imperative to the plans for a Medical Office Building (MOB) that have been in the works for years.
The hospital’s site plans include the property and other buildings in that space, which were chosen because it is across the street from Wynn Hospital, and there were ample sites for parking, officials said.
Hospital officials said the MOB is expected to house physician offices, an ambulatory surgery center, outpatient radiology and a laboratory patient service center.
“The latest maneuvers being attempted by MHVS’ CEO are beyond questionable,” Bowers Development said in a statement.
Bowers further said MVHS has had the opportunity to purchase the property at a fair and reasonable price but has not.
The development company said MVHS is now threatening to take private property through OCIDA, not for public benefit, but for the benefit of another private entity.
Bowers also said their proposed medical office building is larger in structure and will include more medical service providers.
This is the highest and best use of the property, Bowers said.
Officials from MVHS did not return a message for comment.
Bowers said it has and will continue to be willing to talk with MVHS about its proposal.
“We have always been open to discussing our plans with the MVHS board and remain open to that opportunity,” Bowers said. “We are confident that, through honest and reasonable dialogue, the board will come to understand and appreciate the potential of our proposed development project and the positive impact it can deliver for the local community.”
OCIDA representatives declined comment, citing possible litigation.
The development agency may make a decision on whether to follow through with eminent domain proceedings at its next meeting in September.
Utica’s Kennedy Garage
Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri announced the proposed sale of the city’s Kennedy Garage to Bower in late July.
Palmieri described the sale as an exciting chapter for downtown redevelopment and a win for taxpayers, however the announcement was met with surprise and concern by MVHS and Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr.
The mayor, Picente and MHVS had signed a nonbinding memorandum of agreement in 2017 to address parking for the new hospital, which included financial support and availability in the city’s parking structures, according to Observer-Dispatch archives.
Bowers did not comment on whether the Kennedy Garage sale would go through if the Columbia Street property was taken through eminent domain. The Columbia Street property – which is a private sale – is located in the vicinity of the garage.
Palmieri said he agreed with MVHS that a medical office building is a needed asset to complement Wynn Hospital.
The mayor further said Bower’s proposed medical building would be larger and provide more medical services.
Palmieri also said his administration was contacted by Bower’s attorney and informed that the city could be held responsible for “significant financial damages” if it pursued eminent domain.
It is worth noting that OCIDA – which is not affiliated with the county or Utica – is the one possibly pursuing the use of eminent domain. Also, OCIDA can only use eminent domain for profit, not for nonprofits.
Palmieri spoke out against the use of eminent domain in this instance.
“The administration will always act in the best interest of Utica taxpayers,” the mayor said. “By not pursuing eminent domain for this property, the administration is lowering the cost and liability for Utica residents. Furthermore, the administration does not believe its proper to utilize eminent domain against a private business on behalf of another private business.”
Ed Harris is the Oneida County reporter for the Observer-Dispatch. Email Ed Harris at [email protected]