Now that the Mohawk Valley Health System has secured the necessary state funding, designs are underway for its new hospital in downtown Utica. Officials working on the project say the hospital will breathe new life into downtown and make the surrounding area more attractive. But that could come at the expense of dozens of businesses that are already operating in the proposed footprint.
A large group gathered in downtown Utica recently for a walking tour of the Columbia-Lafayette neighborhood. The crowd followed slowly behind a small black speaker that's wheeled around on a furniture dolly, walking past abandoned buildings and vacant lots that are remnants of the Utica's past. The new hospital will offer the city a chance to make use of those empty spaces between Genesee Street and the North-South Arterial Highway.
But Brett Truett, one of the co-founders of the No Downtown Hospital grassroots organization, says many businesses have already repurposed some of those buildings.
"They’re going to knock down a bunch of blocks of old buildings that they say are crushing blight, and the district is functionally obsolete, but there are actually 40+ businesses that are operating down there, including a new police department campus and a new courthouse," Truett said.
One of those businesses is Wilcor International, a vacation supply distributor business. William Corrigan, whose family owns Wilcor, says they are not interested in selling this property that they have occupied since the early 1980s to the Mohawk Valley Health System.
"This building, it's made a big difference for us because we didn’t have a good showroom and this has given us space," Corrigan said. "We need this building to keep our customers happy."
Whether Wilcor's building, which is more than a century old, will be acquired to make way for the hospital is still unknown. It is located within the eight-block radius in downtown that architecture firm NBBJ is currently considering.
Architect Kim Way says this location is strategic for a proposed hospital because of its access to major thoroughfares, but he says the development will offer the neighborhood a symbiotic relationship.
"The hospital will bring up to 4,000 people downtown every day that aren’t coming there now and those people will want to get out will want to eat, they'll want to drink, they will want to go to a laundry and take advantages of those types of services," Way said. "So it could be a real boon for the land uses around it."
That potential for economic development is one of the reasons New York state gave the downtown hospital a $300 million grant. Utica Mayor Rob Palmieri says that kind of investment is something the city has not seen in his lifetime.
"This is an opportunity to have a state of the art facility - health facility - in the city of Utica, for the greater Utica area, which I think surpasses anything we could ever consider," Palmieri said.
Mohawk Valley Health officials plan to start meeting with individual business owners this year about purchasing their properties. even with the buyouts Utica Common Council President Michael Galime says he isn't sold.
"It’s known that a lot of these businesses won’t be made whole and some of them will have to go into debt to actually move, and that’s just not fair because the government is basically funding one business just to push out another," Galime said.