Natchez board considers protested plan to convert old hospital
from Staff Reports - NEWS
April 12, 2017 - ListenUpYall.com
By John Mott Coffey
NATCHEZ, Miss. – The Board of Aldermen will continue considering the protested plans for the city to let developers turn the old Natchez General Hospital into apartments.
“We want you to feel comfortable with whatever is placed in the community,” Alderman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis told residents attending a board hearing Tuesday about the proposed housing development on Oak Street.
The board will have another meeting April 25 to get more input before making a decision.
The hearing Tuesday drew a large crowd opposed to the former hospital being converted into 15 to 30 apartments for retirees. The Natchez residents said they worry this will foster more crime, decrease the value of neighboring properties and be an untaxed drain on municipal services.
Arceneaux-Mathis acknowledged Natchez’ blighted track record of turning city-owned buildings into new housing has “left a bad taste in people’s mouths.”
However, a committee of her, Mayor Darryl Grennell, Alderman Dan Dillard and others have recommended the board approve Magnolia Medical Foundation’s proposal to renovate the 92-year-old structure that’s vacant and dilapidating.
Dr. Erica Thompson, head of the Jackson-based foundation, outlined impressive plans to spend $3.4 million to enhance the building.
A Natchez native who grew up near the hospital on Oak Street, Thompson tried to ease the concerns of neighbors. She said the apartment complex will be security-gated, accommodate residents ages 55 and above and have strict policies for those living there paying the $600 or so monthly rent.
“We will not allow it to be mishandled. The integrity and fiber of your community will be maintained,” Thompson said. “I understand the importance of maintaining the integrity of the community.”
However, Joe Meng, who lives on Oak Street near the old hospital, noted two other former city-owned schools were converted into low-income apartments and flopped “like bombs dropping on residents who live next door.”
The old Carpenter school on North Union Street and the old Brumfield school on St. Catherine Street were made into apartments several years ago. Concerns about crime around the Carpenter apartments has prompted the Natchez Police Department to place a substation there. Brumfield was abandoned a few years ago. Plans for redeveloping it haven’t come to fruition yet.
The Board of Aldermen last month received two proposals for refurbishing the old Natchez General Hospital: one by New Direction Outreach Ministries across the street to house community service programs and the one by Magnolia Medical Foundation.
If the foundation does acquire the building, it would not pay the city for it but be bound by certain requirements in renovating and maintaining it. Thompson said her group is in the preliminary phase of getting the money from private funds and tax-credit housing incentives to renovate the structure. The goal is to have the apartments open in 2018.
Since the city acquired it in 2013 after the previous owner defaulted on paying taxes, efforts have been made to find a developer to restore and repurpose the 1925 building. It was Natchez’ main hospital until 1960.
Some skeptics at Tuesday’s meeting said the city would be better off tearing down the structure.
Catholic Charities was its most recent occupant. It had a shelter for battered families there until about five years ago.