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COR takes control of Mercy property; City officials like proposal


For years, city officials anguished over what was going to happen to the former Mercy property that dominates much of downtown because it appeared the city of Watertown would someday be stuck with it.

Those worries came to an end on Monday.

COR Development Co. gained control of the former Mercy Hospital complex, which it wants to demolish so it can transform the mammoth complex into a mixed-use development of rental units and commercial space.

During a press conference Monday afternoon, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham announced that COR has taken complete control of the property. The Syracuse-area development company can now proceed with plans to develop the property into 168 residential units and 42,000 square feet of street-level shops and offices.

Earlier in the day, developer Steven F. Aiello, president of COR Development Co., Fayetteville, met with the mayor, City Manager Sharon A. Addison, City Engineer Kurt W. Hauk and Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s planning and community development coordinator, to give them the news about the property.

Today, Mr. Graham will meet with the North Country Regional Economic Development Council to lobby for its support.

The $65 million to $70 million project will include both market-rate apartments and senior affordable units, “a niche” that the city needs, Mr. Graham said.

When the project came up during Monday night’s Watertown City Council meeting, Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr. said the project will forever change downtown.

“It’s unlike any other development we’ve ever had before,” he said.

Noting there could be minor modifications to the plans, Mr. Graham said he liked the look of conceptual drawings — what the developer described as “inner harbor.”

“It looks like what is in many cities and suburbs,” he said.

It also rids the city of the big headache of what to do with the complex, made up of a series of buildings that most recently housed a nursing home. It would have cost the city millions to tear down the complex, the mayor said.

Working “through all the legal title issues,” COR accepted a deed to the property “in lieu of foreclosure,” Mr. Aiello said a prepared statement. That process let COR avoid what could have been a lengthy foreclosure process, the mayor said. The terms of the deal with MGNH were not disclosed.

Until Monday, MGNH Inc., the defunct Lake Katrine company that had shown little interest in the property for years, had control of the deed.

Demolition could start early fall and take six to eight months, with planning approvals to run concurrently, the developer said.

Mr. Aiello said he looks forward to working with city officials, community leaders, the Regional Economic Development Council, Empire State Development, the Development Authority of the North Country to begin the revitalization of downtown Watertown.

It will occur at about the same time as the restoration of the Woolworth building, the redevelopment of a former mall under Stream International and plans to bring back the Lincoln Building, Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith.

Samaritan Medical Center had been operating MGNH’s Mercy Care Center of Northern New York in the complex until April, when the last of the residents were moved to the recently completed Samaritan Summit Village on outer Washington Street.

Until work starts, COR will make sure that the buildings remains “safe and secure,” with the electricity on and the security alarm system operating, Mr. Graham said.

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