Hiring a consultant "to prepare recommendations to advance the redevelopment of the Muhlenberg Hospital site" drew many questions Monday before the City Council gave approval.
The city advertised for a real estate and redevelopment consultant in September following a Planning Board recommendation to use a "non-condemnation" approach to redevelopment of the site.by Muhlenberg. Attorney Steven J. Tripp said Muhlenberg preferred non-condemnation to use of eminent domain.
Councilwoman Vera Greaves led Monday by saying the city already had "a lot of recommendations" for the site and questioning the $65,000 expense to hire Real Estate Solutions Group of Princeton.
"This is in order for us to move to the next phase," Economic Development Director Carlos Sanchez said, noting previous suggestions had come from a study. The new effort was to develop a request for proposals "to take to the market," he said, with the goal of developing a health care facility.
"A health care facility?" Greaves asked.
"Yes," Sanchez said, "not a hospital."
He said the group would put together specifications and get feedback from developers.
"Are we going to have another study?" Greaves asked, citing expense to taxpayers and saying, "It's crazy."
Sanchez said if no developers came forward, another study might be needed. As he tried to explain the nuances of the process, Greaves and Councilwoman Diane Toliver demanded specifics. Toliver asked whether any developers were looking at the site now and whether the city looked at other closed hospitals. Sanchez said "interested parties" had looked at the site, but had not recommended any "hard concept" for redevelopment. He said the city had reviewed a hospital closing in Paterson, but "no solid concept" emerged.
Toliver asked whether a concept had been submitted to the council. Sanchez said the study had been given to the council, but he could give it to them again.
In further questioning, Toliver asked how many developers would be brought in "for that amount of money," meaning the $65,000, and Greaves made a similar query.
Sanchez said there were no guarantees and they might only get one.
Toliver asked, "How much time will you spend looking for a developer before you look for another developer?
Sanchez pegged the timeline at about six months and said the city was still negotiating with (JFK Health), the owner of the Muhlenberg campus.
"So you haven't thought about it," Toliver said.
Despite the pressure for guarantees, the resolution passed unanimously.
To learn more about the redevelopment process including recent changes, see this New Jersey League of Municipalities 2014 presentation.