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What happens when Samaritan moves out and Mercy becomes dark?


With the clock ticking, members of Advantage Watertown want to make sure the city is in a good position when Samaritan Medical Center vacates the Mercy Care Center of Northern New York building within the next couple of months.

Advantage Watertown member Donald W. Rutherford, the CEO of the Watertown Local Development Corp., said Thursday that he has been working with a representative of GE Capital to see whether the lien holder of the massive complex will help in its reuse.

Mr. Rutherford said he hopes GE Capital will allow the development corporation, also known as the Watertown Trust, to put together a feasibility study, which would be an important tool to entice a developer, he told other members of Advantage Watertown.

The feasibility study would show “the highest and best use” for the complex, part of which probably would be demolished even if redevelopment becomes possible, he said.

He plans to find out whether the city and Watertown Trust can have access to the building so they can give tours to developers once Samaritan closes the elder care facility at the end February or in March.

“They want to work with us,” he said, “but obviously it’s in their best interest.”

GE Capital most likely would accept whatever it can get on its investment, even if it’s pennies on the dollar, Mr. Rutherford said.

Members of Advantage Watertown, a group of community and business leaders who meet monthly to discuss city issues, are interested in Mercy because of the impact it will have on the city if it is not redeveloped.

The five Stone Street buildings that make up the complex remain the property of MGNH Inc., which complicates redevelopment efforts. MGNH, Lake Katrine, the parent company of the former Mercy Hospital, has shown no interest in the property for years, Advantage members said.

City officials have worried about the fate of the massive complex once Samaritan is out of the picture.

One scenario is that the city eventually takes title to it through foreclosure. The taxes are currently paid up on the property, but if MGNH does not keep current on the taxes, the city could initiate the tax certificate process. That process could begin in June at the earliest, City Comptroller James E. Mills said, and could take three years.

However, city officials say they don’t want ownership of the property because of the high cost of rehabilitating it. It remains unclear what role GE Capital, as lien holder on the property, may play in the transition. GE Capital itself presumably could foreclose on the property because MGNH is no longer operating under bankruptcy protection.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham also reiterated his concerns about the security of the property once it becomes dark. He told the group Thursday that city staff has been instructed to prepare for its pending closing. The city needs to know what kind of plan exists for security, to prevent vandalism and to stop people from getting inside, he said.

Samaritan will vacate the buildings after it opens the Samaritan Summit Village assisted-living facility on outer Washington Street.

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