A construction project proposed more than six years promised to transform downtown Watertown.

The last of Mercy Hospital’s patients left the complex in April 2013. Officials for COR Development Co. in Fayetteville announced they had acquired the roughly 9 acres of land and would create a structure with space for commercial, residential and retail. The campus of the former health care facility runs between Sherman and Massey streets and from Stone to Arsenal streets.

The Sisters of Mercy, a Roman Catholic order, operated the hospital for 105 years. Samaritan Medical Center agreed to take over its operation in October 2010. Demolition of Mercy’s buildings came three years later.

Community leaders believed this project was part of a redevelopment renaissance for Watertown. Initial plans for the former hospital site called for 168 residential units and 42,000 square feet of shops and offices at a cost of about $70 million. This eventually had to be scaled back to 108 apartments and 30,000 square feet of commercial space.

The aging structure was finally gone. But delays in starting the new complex cropped up for COR Development. People continued to hold out hope that the project would eventually begin, but problems mounted.

The major crisis came when company officers Steven F. Aiello and Joseph B. Gerardi were convicted last year of fraud and conspiracy for their role in a bid-rigging scheme pertaining to a state project in Central New York. Aside from that, the housing market has slowed over the last few years. Residential space isn’t in as much demand as it was in 2013.

So representatives if COR Development announced last week that they’ve decided to sell the property. Their six-year goal of creating a residential and commercial center at this site had to be abandoned.

“Frankly, I have no hard feelings. They’re doing the right thing,” Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. said after being informed of the firm’s move to put the land on the market, according to a story published Friday by the Watertown Daily Times. “It’s an important piece of property for development.”

The work that COR undertook on the property was not in vain. It’s important to understand that the site is ready for development. A company could come in and begin construction immediately.

“The site, consisting of nine parcels, is shovel-ready, after about $4 million in state money was invested to demolish the former Mercy Hospital and to complete an environmental cleanup and remediation of the site in 2014,” the story reported. “Michael A. Lumbis, the city’s planning and community development director, is grateful that COR eliminated the former hospital from the site, so it’s now available to be redeveloped. The city would have been left with the burden of the costly demolition, Mr. Lumbis said.”

The challenge now is to identify the best use for this property. If the housing market is soft right now, what plan would appeal most to developers? We need to have a proposal that would suit the city’s needs.

There are sure to be companies interested in acquiring this land and moving on a project. We urge city officials and community leaders to consider how this site could be turned into something that would truly benefit Watertown.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(1) comment

rdsouth

You can't zone something "expensive skyscrapers only" and expect that to magically attract expensive skyscrapers. It's like a job searcher only applying for CEO jobs. There's no magic there, it's a formula for vacant lots and continued unemployment. A dozen family homes would be great and might actually happen. They would have a nearby drugstore to shop at...no scratch that, it closed. Let's zone it for drugstores and maybe a new one will appear. How about a call center or a tire store? Maybe those would...oh.

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