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Downtown Utica hospital can move forward with designs, eminent domain

Mohawk Valley Health System
The proposed hospital in Utica and adjacent parking garage would take up about 25 acres in the city's downtown, requiring the removal of dozens of properties.

Officials with the Mohawk Valley Health System (MVHS) say they are on schedule to break ground in downtown Utica next year for their new $480 million hospital. MVHS has gotten approval from the state to complete the hospital designs, and now has a pathway to use eminent domain so it can clear the way for the facility.

The New York State Department of Health has given MVHS permission to build in downtown Utica. But before any construction can begin, the properties within the 25-acre footprint need to be acquired. According to MVHS, of the 35 property owners representing 72 parcels of land, 10 have completed or are in the process of completing a purchase agreement, 17 are in negotiations, and eight property owners are not actively negotiating with MVHS or have refused to sell.

MVHS President Scott Perra says there's still time to negotiate before the state's environmental review of the project is completed this fall.

"That still gives us lots of time to work with the property owners in the intervening months prior to even being able to execute eminent domain, should we need to use it," Perra said.

Last week, public officials with the city of Utica and Oneida County announced that their government bodies will take the responsibility of seizing the properties that owners refuse to sell on behalf of MVHS.

Dislocating businesses has been a major source of controversy since the downtown hospital was announced, even dividing local officials. In a statement, Utica Common Council President Michael Galime says the disregard for the community by the people elected to represent it is "unbelievable."

Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford) released a statement Wednesday calling the use of eminent domain "an egregious taking of Constitutionally protected rights."

Now, self-serving politicians are going even further, forcing multi-generational, taxpaying businesses out of our community. This is not only a costly undertaking for businesses, this could force many to the brink of bankruptcy. These businesses are among the few left which contribute to our shrinking tax base, to worthy charitable causes in our region and many have been staples in our community for generations.
Investing in health care is vitally important to our region. Using health care as a reason to create economic development will not enhance the quality of care, nor will it provide the vital boost that we need to grow our economy.
Local leaders should pause to ask for public input and work with private businesses in the area to find a solution that best serves the needs of those in our community. The public must be involved in this important debate and taxpaying business owners must have the opportunity to make this decision that is best for their continued survival

But local leaders shot back. Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, also a Republican,  said in a statement that Tenney "speaks before thinking."

Obviously, she doesn’t care about the health care of her constituents. She doesn’t know anything about this project because in between her taxpayer-funded vacations to Taiwan and Egypt, she has failed to learn anything about it. While she continues to make headlines as a national embarrassment, we still await action from her on the issues facing our community including school safety, relief from FEMA and help for our dairy farmers.

Utica Mayor Rob Palmieri, a Democrat, also released a statement.

The proposed hospital project is a transformational, once in a lifetime opportunity to bring state-of-the-art medical care and technology to our community. Congresswoman Tenney is entitled to her opinion, but she is factually inaccurate in referencing “our shrinking tax base” as Utica’s tax base has grown over the past six years due to proactive and aggressive economic development efforts. This project is about providing high quality health care our residents deserve. Rather than spreading political rhetoric, my Administration will continue to work with and assist impacted businesses on an individual basis.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.