City OKs McPherson Hospital handouts; Kent / WCH rezoning vote slated for Sep 3

Do you know about the McPherson Hospital site at Main & Buchanan?

The exposed hospital, ca 2010
The exposed hospital, ca 2010

This historic site (near the original site of the first Watts Hospital) had been vacated some years ago, and as the real estate market was heating up around Brightleaf some developers thought it might make for a nice place to put a hotel. After several failed attempts at a design and much back-and-forth with neighbors, a site plan for a hotel was approved, and things were all set to move forward.

Before construction began, though, the site was sold to Concord who made some, er, changes to the plan. And by changes, I mean they scrapped everything and started over with a new site plan which bore little resemblance to the one that originally won approval (as you may know, site plans are non-binding; once the rezoning was approved, they were good to go).

So it was that the 60’s era addition to the historic structure was demolished back in 2008, and construction of the newly redesigned “extended stay” hotel was ready to begin.

… and it’s been ready to begin for the last five years.

2008, as you may recall, wasn’t a great year for real estate. The project never got past the demolition stage, and Concord has left the historic McPherson Hospital structure itself exposed to the elements and decaying for the past five years.

I talked briefly about this site before, as the developers (having safely waited out the recession) have come crawling back to the table looking for a cool $2 mil to get the ball rolling again, ostensibly to cover design concessions requested by Trinity Park et al. I read this little scenario as:

“Nice historic hospital structure we have falling apart here, eh? It’d be a shame if something were to… happen to it.”

Durham county partially called this bluff, providing a lesser contribution of $400k, which left sad developers sad. The developers subsequently went to the City to ask for more money to cover the gap.

Which the city is now doing, bringing the city’s bill to $1.3M:

But Councilman Steve Schewel noted that the County Commissioners – who balked at a request they put $755,000 into the project – had gotten the better of city leaders in the negotiations that shaped the governments’ offer to Concord.

The framing here of course is that the City was backed into a corner, that the Council just had to step up and fill the gap left by the County, or nothing would be preserved of the original hospital. I can’t help but feel the urgency was well engineered by Concord, who let the building disintegrate due to neglect only to later use the threat of further neglect as leverage to get tax breaks. Well played.

Also on the agenda for last night was to be a final vote on the rezoning request for the Kent Corner Self-Help/DCM co-op grocery store project. Such a vote would have indeed been interesting, but action on this item was moved to the upcoming September 3 meeting instead. The project recently received unanimous support from the Planning Commission, and the parking lot on West Chapel Hill St. was finally acquired, so Council approval is the last major bureaucratic hoop to jump through. I fully expect it to pass, but given some of the opposition the project has drawn, the meeting could be… interesting.

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