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Project to develop site of former Mercy Hospital a result of public/private collaboration

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The community hope that the Mercy Hospital complex, which symbolized the decay of the greater downtown area, would again become a center of economic vitality received a big boost recently. Steven F. Aiello, president of COR Development Co., outlined his plans Wednesday to begin demolition of the five buildings in the next few weeks.

Over the winter, passers-by have noticed activity at Mercy: Windows have been removed; fences are boarded up; and heavy trucks are hauling materials away. Inside the COR project, subcontractors have been removing tons of old hospital equipment, antiquated furniture and asbestos-laden piping and flooring. The environment remediation has progressed through three of the buildings, and they will be the first to fall in May — a process that will consume most of the summer.

It will be a year before construction begins on the 40,000 square feet of commercial and retail space plus 160 to 200 modern apartments on the upper floors.

The project is transformative. The construction phase will create between 670 and 700 jobs, according to an economic analysis provided by William B. Emicke. A professor at Columbia University and a former state housing commissioner, Mr. Emicke predicts that 400 permanent jobs will be created as a result of the $70 million investment.

The Mercy project represents a private investment coupled with state seed money to cooperatively eliminate an eyesore from the city center. No local government has been asked to fund the project; no local development agency made this possible. The fact that demolition begins in a couple of weeks is a tribute to an investor who envisioned a way to turn an economic disaster into a symbol of hope and prosperity by putting up his own company’s money.

The state’s role has been important as it allocated funds to alleviate the housing shortage caused by the buildup at Fort Drum. The result is a public/private partnership that responds to market conditions to solve the needs of government by ensuring that the community has an adequate supply of housing.

Mr. Aiello is also reacting to the nationwide trend to redevelop city centers. He is doing exactly that with the Inner Harbor project in Syracuse.

He understands that using land in a city that has all the required infrastructure in place makes economic sense. Adding a mix of retail and commercial space and apartments provides the opportunity for vibrant city center life to re-emerge in Watertown. The neighborhood will support restaurants and small service shops and jobs to residents who can conveniently walk to and from their destinations.

The Mercy project should demonstrate how government and private capital can work together to rebuild upstate New York and bring back its once-robust economy. Watertown and Jefferson County are thankful for the investment by COR Development and the dedication of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to move our community forward.

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