Staunton moving forward with $20M project at WSH site

Some bad news in the short term for Staunton came out of the governor’s budget message to the Virginia General Assembly today. And then there was the good news.
“The construction of the new Western State Hospital and development of the existing hospital property come as great news for Staunton,” said city manager Steve Owen, announcing the city’s plans to move forward with the proposed development of the 266-acre site that is the current home to WSH.

The move will come at some upfront costs to city taxpayers, who will be asked to put up $20 million toward the construction of the new state hospital on an adjoining property in Virginia Crossroads Business Park owned by the city to facilitate the planned private development of the more commercially viable Western State site.

“The current Western State property is a better location because it’s larger and will accommodate a better mix of uses,” city economic-development director Bill Hamilton said of the economic viability of the current WSH property, which the city has had its eyes on for several years. “It’s closer to U.S. 250 with direct access just off of U.S. 250. And it’s just across I-81 from I-64. So if you look at this as the center of the I-81 and I-64 interchange region, the Western State Hospital property is the logical property that business developers would look at,” Hamilton said.

As to the bad news, another state agency located on the WSH property, the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents, will be closing in June, it was announced today. The closing means approximately 100 local residents working at the center will be losing their jobs come summer.

“As we have done in the past when there are significant job losses in the city, we will work with the Virginia Employment Commission and, if necessary, Social Services to do all we can to help those affected and their families,” Owen said.

The closing might also represent an additional long-term opportunity for the city in opening up additional space for future commercial development. “Given the location of its campus, we would anticipate talking with the state about its possible inclusion in this project. We have not begun any such negotiations at this time,” Hamilton said.

The project as a whole is something that is also still fluid. The project to build a new Western State Hospital in the city business park has gotten the necessary thumbs-up from Gov. Tim Kaine, but the state still has to formalize the conveyance of the current WSH property to the city. Preliminary plans call for construction on the new hospital on the business-park land to begin in the fourth quarter of 2009 or first quarter of 2010, with the hospital slated to open in 2012 or 2013.

The city would contribute $20 million toward the $130 million project in exchange for the conveyance of the land, with the money to come most likely in the form of bonds taken out by the city and disbursed to the state in mid-2011, Owen said. The city would get a return on its investment in the form of monies from the sale of land to developers and future tax revenues generated at the location.

“It is important to understand that this proposed city investment is not a gift to the state. It is more accurately described as an advance on the proceeds from the sale of the property,” Staunton Mayor Lacy King said. “Since the state needs to move ahead with the new hospital, but cannot legally budget money it might expect from future land sales, this city money would allow the project, including the relocation of the hospital, to proceed,” King said. “We feel confident that most or all of the city investment would be recovered as the property is sold in the years ahead,” King said.

 

– Story by Chris Graham


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