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Candidate views split on bid for hospital

MERIDEN — City Council candidates have mixed opinions about the city’s recent bid to buy the former Meriden-Wallingford Hospital building.

The city was the only bidder on the 7.1-acre former hospital site at a foreclosure auction Saturday. The $1.3 million bid will be vetted by the Foreclosure Committee and the owner, Bradley Research Center LLC, will have the opportunity to object to a sale. Otherwise, the seven-story dilapidated building will become the property of the city at no cost, since the city bid what had been owed in taxes.

City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior said Monday he is confident the sale will be approved and that city officials will look to get a developer involved with the property, which could lead to new housing. The city already owns properties in the vicinity, including the former Factory H site and the multi-story former medical office building at 116 Cook Ave. Both properties are being considered for housing.

David Lowell, a Democrat seeking to retain the at-large City Council seat he was appointed to in July, said he is optimistic about the future of the property and he hopes it is not in the city’s possession for an extended period of time.

“Hopefully we can get the right developer in there and help clean up the neighborhood,” Lowell said, noting he would prefer a developer, not the city, either redevelop or raze the structure. “We certainly do not want to hold on to the property for a long duration.”

Lowell called the economy an “emerging” one, albeit slow, but said he could see a developer becoming interested without having to deal with the tax burden associated with it. He added that the new transit-oriented zoning district in the area could make the property easier to redevelop.

“I agree, it’s an eyesore and something needs to be done because it wasn’t being done with the existing owner,” Lowell said. “If we have the ability to make the property move where it was not being moved by others ... that’s what should be done.”

City Council candidate Lynn Ryder said she would prefer the city not become the troubled property’s landlord.

“Eventually the money has to come from somewhere to remodel it or tear it down, I would just hope that doesn’t fall on the taxpayer,” said Ryder, who is running in Area 1, which covers the former hospital site. “No offense to the city, I understand we acquire it and it’s not really going to cost us anything, but so you own it and keep it boarded up and do what with it, nothing? It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Ryder said she also had concerns about the potential cost to clean up the property, noting that the city has had to clean up many other properties. The city has a large number of projects going on, she added, and one more major one may be too many.

Ryder’s opponent in Area 1, Democratic incumbent Miguel Castro, said it is in the city’s best interest to take over the property since there has been some interest from developers. Castro said the building could serve as affordable housing and be a site for replacement units from the Mills Memorial Apartments, which city officials are talking about razing.

If a developer can take control, “the city would not have the burden of redeveloping or demolishing the property or dealing with the crimes and nuisances that we have currently,” Castro said.

Castro added that a developer could lead to an owner that pays taxes.

“This will have a positive impact on the neighborhood if it goes that way,” Castro said.

Democrat David Salafia, who is running for an at-large seat, said he doubted the possibility of a developer or private investor taking over the property because it has been on the market for close to 10 years. Though he expressed some concerns about city ownership, Salafia said he hopes the city owning the property could bring relief to the neighborhood and result in the building’s demolition.

“Hopefully we would look at state and federal funds so the burden isn’t on (local) taxpayers,” Salafia said. “Obviously the best result would be a private investor, but the hospital left it because it was a difficult building to utilize.”

Salafia, who is seeking to regain a council seat, said he toured the building several years ago with a former Meriden Housing Authority director who told Salafia the layout of the building makes it difficult for housing. But Salafia was optimistic that city ownership of the building would be better.

“It was something that was always hanging over our heads when I was on the council,” he said. “To have it just sit there and be idle hoping something would happen there is not good for the neighborhood or that corridor of the city ... I think we have to be creative and craft a way to make it work as far as eventually demolishing it.”

Lenny Rich, a Republican running for an at-large seat, said he had concerns about the taxes on the property piling up for years without anything being done. While he admitted to being unsure about the best future of the building because he has yet to see estimates, Rich said he hopes for a positive outcome.

“To clean (the contaminants) up worries me,” Rich said. “We’re talking more taxes to clean it up. There are parts of the building that could probably still be used ... My desire is that it turns out good.”

The other at-large candidate, We the People Party member Ron Perry, could not be reached for comment. 203-317-2266 Twitter: @DanBrechlinRJ

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