Officials brainstorm ideas on ex-Community Hospital campus
NEW PORT RICHEY - County and city leaders examined possible redevelopment cures for what ails the area near the land that was once the home of Community Hospital of New Port Richey.Pasco Commissioner Henry Wilson and New Port Richey Mayor Bob Consalvo welcomed a few dozen people to a Thursday summit on the area along Marine Parkway near Grand Boulevard, which is inside the city limits.Suggestions from the summit include a bus transit station, a veterans hospital or services, veterans housing, a fire station, medical school, other education institutions, a trauma facility, pharmaceutical researchers, community center, performing arts center or a sports center.Participants include Summer Robertson, a representative of U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor; Judy Parker, representing state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby; Pasco County Health Officer Mike Napier; Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker; interim City Manager Susan Dillinger; and most county commission and city council members.No one from Medical Center of Trinity or its parent company, Nashville-based HCA, attended the summit. Most of Community Hospital's service moved to Medical Center of Trinity when it opened its doors in early 2012.The former Community Hospital facility in New Port Richey now operates under the name Medical Center of Trinity West Pasco Campus. It mainly provides behavioral health services."We continue to research viable options for the unused space at our West Pasco Campus and are happy to listen to any ideas the City of New Port Richey and Pasco County propose," Mary Sommise, director of marketing for Medical Center of Trinity, responded in an email Friday."While we were not included as participants in the recent planning meeting, we look forward to hearing what was discussed," she added.Hospital officials had been invited, Wilson said.Consalvo and others believe hospital executives are waiting first on suggestions from elected leaders. Wilson suggested a small delegation should set up a meeting next month with hospital officials to present ideas from the Thursday brainstorming session.Baker mentioned that Urban Land Institute experts could offer their insights when they visit here in October.Except for the behavioral health wing, vast sections of the 40-year-old former Community Hospital building have remained vacant since the 2012 move. The main building has some 273,000 square feet. The parcel covers more than 24 acres.Trinity administrators last year abandoned plans to maintain a branch emergency room at the New Port Richey site because of high renovation costs.Departure of Community Hospital has left a big hole in the city's tax base, Councilman Bill Phillips said. Property Appraiser Mike Wells recently noted the impact on nearby office complexes as well.Renovation expense also could provide a stumbling block to any developer interested in the parcel, officials speculated.Commission Chairman Ted Schrader first wanted to know if the hospital wants to sell its vacant campus. Consalvo was not aware of any plans to sell the parcel at this time.The mayor would prefer a private buyer if the parcel is put on the market, so that the site would contribute to the city's tax base. A nonprofit buyer would be exempt from property taxes.U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., believes a veterans hospital at that location would not be viable because of the age of the existing building, said Consalvo, who discussed the matter with Nelson.Any hospital project would have to obtain a certificate of need from state regulators, Phillips emphasized. Such approval can prove difficult and take a lot of time.The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has set aside funds toward possible consolidation of West Pasco facilities, Bilirakis aide Robertson said. Bilirakis, the vice chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and others must deal with an appropriation issue this fall. VA administrators do not want to renovate existing facilities and prefer to build from scratch, Robertson said."It's unlikely there will be a single use for it," John Hagen, president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council,said. Hagen observed that the large parcel might boost redevelopment of the city, which is built out at this time. The city has contracted with the Wesley Chapel-based PEDC for redevelopment assistance.Residential construction could become possible at the site, but any tax credits most often go to low-income housing projects, Hagen said. Officials at the summit thought low-income housing would not be suitable for that area.