The Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has agreed to provide a ‘letter of support’ for an application for a grant to help pay for demolition of the old Three Rivers Hospital building on Spring Street.
Action to have DDA Director Christy Trammell write such a letter came during the December meeting of the DDA Board of Directors Friday morning (December 7).
Trammell explained that grant funding for demolition of blighted buildings is available through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). She said that Melissa Bliss of the city’s Administrative Services department has been working on a grant application and has requested a letter of support from the DDA. Trammell indicated that the old hospital building, which has been vacant and unused since the opening of the current hospital in 1987, is “something that has been on the agenda of this DDA to have it addressed.” She said, “It’s in our footprint and it’s a very large space, what the MEDC would call a ‘white elephant building’.” Trammell said that City Manager Joe Bippus has “had quite a few different interested parties look at it for the renovation aspect” and it has been “cost prohibitive” so now the city is looking at demolition again. And, she added, “With the assistance of the grant, that’s a possibility.”
DDA Chairman Jeff Zimont said, “(It’s) much more marketable as a piece of grass than what it is right now, I’m sure.”
Regarding development of the property following demolition or the possibility of it becoming a part of Scidmore Park, Trammell said, “It’s up to the city.”
Bippus, who serves on the DDA board, said, “I think we would probably entertain different concepts or ideas for that.” Potential uses he mentioned included the site for a new library facility or Commission on Aging facility, and he indicated that some developers have talked about a senior living facility on the property which is adjacent to Scidmore Park and overlooks the confluence of the St. Joseph and Rocky rivers.
During a post-meeting interview with the River Country Journal, Bippus said that doing something with the old hospital property has been “a long-term priority for the city” which has owned the property in recent years. He said he talked with two developers during the summer who were interested in reusing portions of the building, “but it wasn’t financially feasible.” He said, “Even yesterday, I had another developer come in and wanted to try to negotiate and look at something to do with that property, so I don’t turn anything away. I go down every avenue that opens up. I want that property to be better utilized and not be a blight on the city any longer.”
Bippus said the grant application is a ‘group effort’ involving Bliss, Georgina Shafer and himself, plus Envirologic, a consultant hired by the city. He said the application will seek around a million dollars in grant funds and indicated that the grant program is “being funded from the foreclosures settlement that the federal government did with banks and the money is being allocated for demolition of blighted properties.” (Joe Bippus audio clip – :40)
Bippus said the deadline for submitting the grant application is December 14th and indicated the city expects to hear “within a couple of months” whether it was successful in its quest for the funding. He said that several other applications are being sent in “from the county, from around the area, so it’s going to be competitive.”
To hear the full interview with Joe Bippus – recorded by Bruce Snook of the River Country Journal – click here (2:53 – 2.64 MB).