A developer selected to transform the long-shuttered Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center heard some residents denounce housing as an element of the renewal, just as they have since 2012 when 600 apartments were proposed for the site.
A diverse crowd including "Save Muhlenberg" activists, residents of the hospital's neighborhood and those whose families experienced birth and death there filled the Senior Center Monday to hear William Colgan of Community Healthcare Associates explain his winning concept.
William Colgan of Community Healthcare Associates LLC
Real Estate Solutions and a committee painstakingly reviewed six conceptual proposals for the 10-acre site before selecting Colgan's firm. The company was found to have the necessary experience, financial capacity to get a bank loan, ability to incur debt and to offer a purchase price to JFK for the site, which the city does not own.
Colgan, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp and Economic Development Director Carlos Sanchez all stressed there are many more steps in the process, starting with acquisition of the site from JFK Health Systems and including numerous city approvals.
A slide detailing "next steps" (click to enlarge)
Colgan, whose firm has redeveloped closed hospitals in Jersey City and Paterson, said Muhlenberg's 500,000-square-foot facility would be partially demolished to make way for parking, while more than half would become a medical facility. The company will seek a "payment in lieu of taxes" agreement.
Although the $49 million proposal could create 600 jobs and bring tax relief, speakers reacted sharply to the proposed inclusion of veterans' housing and assisted living units.
Edward Danner is first up to speak
As soon as Mapp opened the meeting to questions, a line formed at the microphone. Although some wanted to share family memories of Muhlenberg, others sought assurance that their quiet residential neighborhood would not be marred.
With so many more steps to be accomplished, not all questions could be answered, but Colgan said, "Our goal is to work with Plainfield, to make what Plainfield would like to see."
Resident Donald Van Blake asked for something in writing about the proposal and said he was disappointed that there had not been "a clear, open declaration of the purpose of the meeting." Sanchez and Mapp reminded the audience several times that vetting the developers was just one step in the process.
Perhaps the strongest concern came from Robin Bright, who said bluntly "There was no plan."
Bright said JFK "put a non-compete clause in there." Anticipating a "Wounded Warrior with PTSD" as a future tenant on the site, she said, "That is not what we want here."
Living 200 feet from the site, Bright said, "I'm scared - there is no buffer."
When the Planning Board in September discussed whether to make an "in need of redevelopment" decision for the site, board members voted against using eminent domain. Bright said she had wanted them to take the site by condemnation.
"They should have," she said, "then they could put in the services we need and deserve."
Bright said there were too many children and women walking dogs in the neighborhood.
She said the veteran who killed police in Dallas had PTSD and locally so did a "guy who killed his mother."
She said she wanted JFK to be more flexible in what is put there. The audience applauded her remarks several times..
Colgan and Mapp had their heads together as Bright finished and Colgan said Mapp had asked him to "circle back" to his prior remarks. He said the Muhlenberg project was analogous to what the company did with Barnert Medical Arts Complex, a former municipal hospital. But when he mentioned an adult day center as a possibility, someone yelled that Muhlenberg used to have one and "they took it away!"
In all, nearly two dozen speakers commented on the presentation and their concerns about what might happen. The meeting was taped for airing on local cable channels. Mapp wrapped it up by acknowledging their concerns, calling the return of a hospital "highly unlikely" and emphasizing the possible benefits of Colgan's plan.
"Be patient," he said. "We are at the point where something is going to happen."