August 31, 2017
Ever since I first became aware, over two years ago, of the audacious proposal of local politicians and hospital administrators to shutter St. Elizabeth's Hospital and St. Luke's Hospital, use $300 million in state funds exile 40 businesses from Downtown Utica and bulldoze the historic Columbia Street - Lafayette Street neighborhood, in order to construct a $500 million hospital in Downtown Utica, I have had many pressing questions, all of which remain unanswered. Here is a sampling of several of the more profound, troubling questions that persist in my mind:
1.) What study or studies have been done which supposedly determine that a new hospital for the Mohawk Valley is needed?
2.) If, indeed, the medical community needs a new facility, why can't a new hospital be constructed on the St. Luke's Hospital Campus, where some 64 acres of land is available for such a new facility, with ample room for parking?
3.) What study or studies have been done which weigh the merits, from a healthcare standpoint, of constructing a new hospital in Downtown Utica, as opposed to on the St. Luke's Campus?
4.) Given the size and scope of the proposed "Downtown Hospital", why have politicians and hospital administrators hatched the subject proposal behind closed doors, with no community involvement?
5.) Why have several local politicians insisted that the new hospital must be sited in Downtown Utica, while the subject appropriation legislation from the State of New York imposes no such constraint?
6.) Why is the City of Utica, which already has a significant percentage of its real estate exempt from tax, prepared to use eminent domain to seize and raze a significant number of structures, many of which have historic value, and virtually all of which are salvageable, displacing some 40 taxpaying businesses, and handing the condemned land over to a single tax exempt business?
7.) Why commit taxpayers to funding an enormous and expensive parking garage in Downtown Utica, especially given that such structures are increasingly viewed by urban planners as approaching obsolescence?
8.) Why have politicians touted this benighted project as an urban renewal scheme (even as they studiously avoid use of the term "urban renewal"), which will bring "economic revitalization" to Downtown Utica, where the history of such governmental activism has become so widely discredited throughout the nation following many debacles in the 1960s, including in Utica?
9.) Given the virtually universal negative track record of governmentally sponsored "urban renewal" as a means of fostering economic revitalization in urban America, what study or studies have been done to support the proposition that constructing a "Downtown Hospital" would somehow succeed where so many other "silver bullet" projects have failed?
10.) Has any consideration been given to the potentially negative impact of the proposed "Downtown Hospital" on the organic development that has occurred in the nearby Bagg's Square, Franklin Square and Varick Street neighborhoods?
After an opaque and secretive process the Mayor, the Oneida County Executive and the C.E.O. of Mohawk Valley Health Systems have recently entered into what they characterize as a "Memorandum of Agreement" ("MOA"), recently obtained by the news media, which purports to delineate the said trio's latest purported plan for proceeding with this ill-considered project. One might have expected that such a document would provide cogent, coherent and compelling answers to each of the questions set forth above. However, a perusal of that document, accessible below, yields, among other things, the observation that all of the questions posed above remain unanswered. Although, at this stage, the MOA remains but an equivocally worded agreement to agree, it is most disturbing that it has the Mayor deigning to commit the City of Utica's public fisc, among other things, to the financing of a grotesquely expensive and obsolete parking garage, which monies could easily be saved by shifting the siting of the contemplated hospital to the St. Luke's Campus (where no parking garage would be needed), which would have the added benefits of removing the pall of uncertainty over the future of Downtown Utica and granting a reprieve to the businesses that are at risk from this foolhardy enterprise.
Thanks to the hard work of laudable organizations like Better Utica Downtown and #NoHospitalDowntown, and others who love the City of Utica, opposition to this project is mobilizing and growing.
In sum, one can only hope that the political highhandedness that has brought us to this impasse will soon yield to an open and frank assessment of all that is now at risk, both in terms of the character and finances of the City of Utica as well as its heritage and future.