UPMC to raze Braddock hospital

Onorato envisions mixed-use complex on site

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Allegheny County and UPMC have agreed on a plan to demolish the former UPMC Braddock hospital building and replace it with a new complex that would provide housing for senior citizens, space for doctors' offices and classrooms for job training through the Community College of Allegheny County.

Under the plan outlined Tuesday by Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, UPMC has agreed to tear down the hospital, perhaps as early as June, at a cost of as much as $5 million. Once that occurs, the county will seek proposals from private developers willing to develop the site.

As part of the proposal, Allegheny County would receive $3 million from UPMC, which would help leverage another $3 million from the state to be applied toward redevelopment, said Paul Wood, a spokesman for the hospital system.

"It would be a really quick turnaround. UPMC would demolish the building and then we would put out a request for proposal," said Mr. Onorato.

The hospital system, he added, has committed to demolishing the building if no other hospital or health system commits to operating it as a medical facility. That possibility appeared to be remote, county officials said.

"I am very enthusiastic about this plan and I think [Mr. Onorato] and all of us who have been consistently protesting this closure realize this is the best possible outcome we could get out of this," said Braddock Mayor John Fetterman.

The redevelopment plan did not sit well in some circles, however.

Braddock Borough Council President Jesse Brown and Tony Buba, a local filmmaker and one of the leaders of the grass-roots campaign Save Our Community Hospitals, said they would not sign on to any plan to demolish the hospital.

"Tearing down the building should be the last thing we should be talking about," said Mr. Brown, who was part of the working group Mr. Onorato put together to deal with the hospital's closure.

"If that is what they want to do, I can tell you I will be out there with picket signs trying to stop them," he said.

Airing Mr. Brown's sentiments, Mr. Buba said that Mr. Onorato's plan struck him as a "top-down process, which really didn't have much input from the people who are actually being affected by the closure."

"This proposal is a non-starter. We want a hospital, not a business center. The fight goes on," he added.

UPMC has committed to make payments to Braddock of $90,000 a year for five years in lieu of wage taxes that hospital employees had paid.

The borough, one of the county's poorest, had been getting about $34,000 in taxes from UPMC employees who lived in Braddock.

Braddock Council had voted to raise property taxes by 1 mill to 11.7 mills in a move to make up for the lost wage tax revenue. Mr. Fetterman last month vetoed the increase, saying he wanted to see if the borough could find other ways to fill holes in its budget.

But Tuesday night, council voted 5-0 to override the mayor's veto.

The county, meanwhile, has specific items it wants to include in the new building.

In addition to expanding CCAC's job training classes, Mr. Onorato said the building would have 90 new units for senior-citizen housing, 30 of which would be assisted-living units.

It would also include space for two commercial anchor tenants, a cafe or restaurant and an ATM. An expansive first floor would be specifically set aside to house the Braddock Family Health Center, the only primary care physician left in Braddock.

UPMC's Mr. Wood said that UPMC has already taken steps to expand access to health care for Braddock residents in the wake of the hospital's closing.

Mr. Wood said the hospital system has partnered with the Braddock Family Health Center to expand evening and Saturday office hours. Hospital officials also said Braddock residents will have access to UPMC McKeesport physician's offices in Forest Hills, many of whom practiced at the Braddock hospital.

In addition, UPMC also started a service on Monday to shuttle residents from Braddock to the nearest hospitals. The shuttles will run five times a day. The three-month pilot program will end on April 30, at which point the hospital system will determine whether to continue the service, said Mr. Wood.

What is left of the former Braddock hospital will be demolished soon, Mr. Wood said, but he could not give a specific timeline.

When UPMC announced last year it would close the hospital, officials said the facility didn't draw enough local patients to keep it in operation, which makes it unlikely any other medical provider would take the site.

"I have called and personally talked with several hospital CEOs about [interest in operating the hospital] and the answer has been a resounding no from every one of them," said Mr. Onorato.

Mr. Buba still had many questions.

"How do you come up with a complex plan like what they are proposing this fast? Where are the studies they have done that support the fact that people will take advantage of the senior citizen housing? Who are the 'anchor tenants' they are going to get to come into this building? This whole thing just seems so rushed," he said.

Karamagi Rujumba: krujumba@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719. Staff writer Moriah Balingit contributed. First Published February 3, 2010 5:00 AM


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