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City council approves land swap with ECHA

Swap paves trail for new construction of hospital

The Atmore City Council Monday approved a swap of land with the Escambia County Healthcare Authority, helping to pave the way for a new hospital to be built in the Rivercane Development.

The swap of land between the council and the ECHA includes 8.3 acres behind Atmore Community Hospital and 10 acres of land just south of the red light across from Wind Creek Hotel and Casino on Highway 21.

The council approved the measure 4-1. Councilwoman Susan Smith voted against the swap.

“I really do appreciate the city being willing to work with us to move forward and bring to the citizens of Atmore and this end of the county, and the surrounding area a state-of-the-art new hospital facility,” ECHA Chairman Debbie Rowell said. “We’re really excited, and hope to get things moving right away.”

The decision comes after more than a year of public hearings and inaction from the city council when the donation of the land was brought up for a vote.

During a recent city council workshop on Feb. 24, Councilman Chris Harrison, Jerome Webster and Smith said they had met with ECHA Boardmembers Chris Griffin, Nancy Lowrey and Rowell in a closed meeting to discuss the current hospital and the land swap.

Harrison said during the Feb. 24 workshop that all three of them walked away with a better understanding on some things, and what the ECHA is going through in regard to ACH. ECHA runs ACH and D.W. McMillan Hospital in Brewton.

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

According to Advance archives, the ECHA released a statement highlighting the specifics related to the new hospital last year.

“Adams Management Services Corporation, along with Johnson Healthcare Real Estate, Goodwin Mills Cawood and Healthcare Program Advisors conducted the study, which recommended the construction of a new facility that would hold 27 inpatient beds, 10 emergency room beds, one-to-two operating rooms, an ICU and offer other services such as MRI, CT scan, echocardiogram, ultrasound, nuclear medicine, X-ray and urgent care services. The study looked at ACH historical data, state discharge data, the local healthcare market and changing demographic trends.”

Additionally, the hospital’s move will allow the hospital to take advantage of the New Market Tax Credit program, which would ultimately allow for a reduction in debt of between $7.5 million and $10 million. The cost to build the new hospital is expected to be more than $30 million, according to the ECHA.

During a workshop on March 9, the council discussed the appraisal value of the 8.3 acres of property behind ACH.

Mayor Jim Staff said the 8.3 acres of land was appraised at $104,239, and includes a 60-foot right of way access from 9th Avenue to Medical Park Drive.

Staff noted other similar-sized properties sold for $90,000 (4.8 acres), $99,000 (11.39 acres) and $109,000 (10 acres). An appraisal was done for the 10 acres at Rivercane the city swapped with ECHA, but the city hasn’t received the final appraisal value, yet.

Smith asked what the purpose of purchasing the Rivercane Development property was.

“To bring jobs and revnue,” Staff said. “That was the mission statement when it happened. And that’s what it’s done.”

Harrison asked whether the city will have a right of refusal on the property.

Staff confirmed that the city would have a right of refusal.

Staff confirmed that when the swap is made, the land behind the current hospital is going on the market.

When asked why she voted no on the land swap, Smith said because she felt the hospital was going to be a bridge for the city of Atmore and Rivercane Development.

“I feel like the study that was done from SmartGrowth (America) said that we needed a brdige between the property out there at Rivercane and here would join us together,” Smith said. “And that we couldn’t draw from out there, and they couldn’t draw businesses here.

“I felt like the hopsital was the perfect bridge and that moving it out there is going to effect the elderly, the poor and the black community,” she said. “Therefore, I voted for what I thought was best for the citizens inside the city limits of Atmore.”

In other business, the council:

• approved the Young Entrepreneurship Festival to be held on June 20 from 1-4 p.m. at Houston Avery Park; and,

• adopted resolution 2020-07 for an Alabama Department of Transportation lighting maintenance agreement for an exit 57 Interstate 65 project.