UPMC to raze Braddock site

Hospital agrees to pay lost wage taxes as county approves redevelopment plan
Thursday, April 15, 2010

UPMC officials say they hope to have the site of the former Braddock hospital cleared by this summer after Braddock Council approved a long-delayed and controversial redevelopment plan.

Paul Wood, a spokesman for the health care giant, said Wednesday that UPMC would proceed with tearing down the seven-story building to make way for a $29 million redevelopment plan for the now-closed hospital.

Council's unanimous decision on Tuesday night ended a two-month deadlock during which Braddock officials refused to vote on the proposal because members remained opposed to the hospital closing.

UPMC's decision to shut down the hospital on Jan. 31 was followed by community protests that did not lessen after Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato unveiled plans Feb. 2 for reuse of the property.

Most Braddock officials and many residents were holding out hope that another health-care provider would take over the hospital, but none came forward.

Under the terms of the deal approved by Braddock officials, UPMC will cover the estimated $5 million in demolition costs. The health-care provider also will provide $3 million for redevelopment that the county hopes to be able to match with state funds.

It also will make annual $90,000 payments to Braddock for the next five years to make up for lost wage taxes resulting from the hospital's closing.

Council member Tina Doose said she hesitated to vote for the proposal because much of the $29 million plan is unfunded. She said she was pleased that educational facilities, residential development and doctors' offices will be on the site, but she wanted to see a plan that addressed the residents' health-care needs.

"[What] we were asking for .. from UPMC was to address this humongous gap when it came to access of health-care services and what we got back was not anything that really addressed the need for health care," she said.

Mayor John Fetterman, who supported the county plan from the beginning, said the delay had put the community at risk of losing any redevelopment aid.

"They didn't so much as get an extra parking space," he said Wednesday of council members. "It's an identical plan to what was proposed in February. All council has succeeded in doing is creating ill will."

Plans announced by Mr. Onorato call for mixed reuse of the site. Elements would include senior citizen housing, doctors offices and job retraining classrooms for programs to be run by Community College of Allegheny County.

In a statement Wednesday, Mr. Onorato said he was glad that Braddock council members had approved the plan. Their action opens the way for the county to seek redevelopment proposals from private developers.

Dennis Davin, the county's economic development director, pledged to meet regularly with Braddock officials to keep them up to date on the progress of the redevelopment plans. He estimated that the mixed-use project could be completed in about 21/2 years -- late fall of 2012 -- if all the pieces fall into place.

In addition to the three anchor elements of the plan -- senior housing, medical offices and classrooms -- county officials hope other businesses might locate on the hospital site or nearby on Braddock Avenue, the borough's main street. A restaurant or coffee shop would be a good addition to the plans, Mr. Davin said.

The $29 million investment in Braddock should help encourage development in neighboring communities like Rankin and Swissvale, he predicted.

Despite the decision by Braddock Council to back the county plan, a citizens group opposed to the hospital closing will go ahead with a protest planned for noon today outside UPMC headquarters on Grant Street. Save Our Community Hospitals is questioning UPMC's status as a non-profit institution.

David Hughes, a member of the SOCH's steering committee, said the county plan still leaves out one element that is critical to the health and safety of Braddock residents: an emergency room. "If they agreed to give us emergency care, they could forget everything else," he said.

The hospital employed about 600 people before it closed. UPMC said it placed about 85 percent of those employees at other affiliated institutions.