City still mulling hospital property donation

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, February 26, 2020

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The Atmore City Council is still mulling over whether it will donate 10 acres of land to the Escambia County Healthcare Authority for the construction of a new hospital at the interstate.

All five city councilmembers – Chris Harrison (District 5), Susan Smith (District 4), Chris Walker (District 3), Jerome Webster (District 2) and Webb Nall (District 1) – were present for a more-than 45-minute workshop at city hall, where they discussed the issue. This is the first time the full city council, including Mayor Jim Staff, were in the same room discussing this issue.

Previously, the ECHA asked the city council if it would donate the 10 acres. The city council took no action on the donation.

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Recently, Harrison, Smith and Webster met with ECHA Boardmembers Chris Griffin, Debbie Rowell and Nancy Lowrey in a closed meeting to discuss the current hospital and the land donation.

Harrison said during the workshop on Monday that all three of them walked away with a better understanding on some things, and what the ECHA is going through in regard to Atmore Community Hospital (ACH). ECHA runs ACH and D.W. McMillan Hospital in Brewton.

“We talked about some of the what ifs,” Harrison said. “Just gathering from what we talked about with them, we feel they’re willing to work with us.”

Smith added that all came to the conclusion that the city needs a new hospital.

Harrison said from his perspective and talking with (Economic Development Consultant) Tucson Roberts and ECHA while looking at their financials at ACH, especially their EDIBTA in the last five years, they’re not in good shape. The EDIBTA portrays how a company or entity is doing financially.

“The last couple years showed them actually losing money,” Harrison said.

Harrison said the ECHA received $1.5 million in hospital taxes, and put the majority of the sum into ACH.

“He (Griffin) told us he spends 75 percent of his time in Atmore making this work and keeping it going,” Harrison said. “That was eye opening to me. I can’t speak for everyone that was there. I don’t want them to mortgage the farm to buy all of that land, but I don’t want… there’s got to be something in exchange, whether it’s money or land.”

On the land, Harrison said the ECHA offered the 8 acres that’s behind ACH that goes all the way to the Latter Day Saints Church of Jesus Christ. Later in the meeting, the idea of getting the ACH property appraised and coming back to make a decision for a swap was discussed.

Smith said she believes hospitals will surround Atmore after Mobile Infirmary completes construction at locations in Malbis, Saraland and North Baldwin County. She talked about some of the current property values, including Foster Kizer’s bed and breakfast that’s for sale, another piece of property near by and one piece closer to downtown.

She believes it’s in the city’s best interests – other than needing a new hospital – to not build at the interstate, but closer to town. She suggested the piece of property across from Hendrix Tractor Supply as an option.

Webster said to him, the hospital would be for Poarch as well.

“It’s not just the land, it’s equipped for that building,” Webster said. “People work out where, and they’ll give us something, our blue collar guys, we can get something out there a whole lot beter than giving away the land.”

Harrison asked Nall and Walker their opinions.

“When it first got out when they were going to build a new hospital, I was against it,” Nall said. “Then, sitting through two or three of those workshops and talking to some state people, I didn’t have a problem going to the interstate. I really still don’t, if that’s where they want to go.”

Walker asked when the location across from Hendrix was brought up, and what the ECHA said about it.

“Visibility was something they did say (was important),” Harrison said.

Walker asked if the hospital authority is making the assumption that they’re getting the land for free, and in the cost to build the hospital ($36 million), the land was not included?

“Based on the location of the property they want us to donate, what could we expect to get out of that piece of property if we didn’t give it to them,” Walker asked.

Walker said he was trying to better understand what the loss would incur to the city if the land was donated.

Harrison said he’d be willing to donat the first five, if they can pay the second five later. I don’t think it ever got beyond that. I kind of more or less tos ee where they’ve coming from. From what I think theyr’e coming from, they aren’t going to pay for it.

There were other points of interest discussed during the workshop, including donating 5 acres of land and having the ECHA pay the rest of it later; and swapping the 8 acres at ACH with the 10 acres at Rivercane and the ECHA paying the difference.

Harrison said from their meeting with the ECHA, they told the councilmembers they’re going to be borrowing from all kinds of sources and grants.

“What’s the feather in their cap if that land is of no cost to them?” Harrison said.

Walker said that the land would be the ECHA’s equity in helping them put a down payment to help secure financing.

Harrison said Roberts made a good point to him in regard to looking at the value of the 10 acres.

“Tuscon Roberts, he’s very experienced in what he does,” Harrison said. “He aid, ‘In considering the value of the property, you also have to consider the value of what the hospital brings to the commuinty as far as jobs, as far as better healthcare and other businesses that are going to come.’”