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COR Development plans to demolish Mercy complex, redevelop site


A Syracuse-area development company has gained control of the former Mercy Hospital property and plans to demolish the mammoth Stone Street complex and redevelop the site.

Steven F. Aiello, president of COR Development Co., Fayetteville, said Thursday that he met with Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham and City Manager Sharon A. Addison on Thursday to advise them of COR’s interest in the property.

COR already has invested millions of dollars in the Watertown area, developing the Towne Center shopping complex, which includes Target and Kohl’s department stores, as well as the 296-unit Beaver Meadow Apartments behind the shopping center on Route 3 in the town of Watertown.

“I think Watertown’s a very vibrant community,” Mr. Aiello said. “The community and the municipalities have been very supportive in the past. We work very well with them.”

Mr. Aiello said COR is developing Syracuse’s Inner Harbor and is redeveloping a vacant former public housing project. Company officials saw the potential for a similar mixed-use development in Watertown.

“We’re trying to combine our expertise in retail, office and residential development to help revitalize urban areas, to take advantage of the trend to revitalize downtown markets,” Mr. Aiello said.

He said he looked at several locations in Watertown, but was steered to the Mercy site by city officials. He said that despite the presence of several old buildings on the site that likely will necessitate some environmental cleanup, he believes the downtown location makes it a good candidate for redevelopment.

“It works for the community and it works for us; it has great potential,” Mr. Aiello said. “A lot of these projects are complicated, but there’s nothing there I haven’t encountered on a lot of projects.”

The plan became possible when COR acquired the mortgage for the Mercy property from GE Capital. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. MGNH Inc., Lake Katrine, remains the owner of the property, but local officials have said the company has demonstrated little interest in it following a bankruptcy action. MGNH has, however, kept current with property taxes, with one of its attorneys paying a total of $42,915 in city and county taxes to cover the main complex, two parking lots and a vacant lot. Mr. Graham said COR will begin foreclosure proceedings for the property.

Samaritan Medical Center had been operating MGNH’s Mercy Care Center of Northern New York in the complex until this week, when the last of the residents were moved to the recently completed Samaritan Summit Village on outer Washington Street.

City officials had fretted about the future of the Mercy property, fearing that it would fall to city taxpayers to demolish the building, which covers much of a city block between Stone and Arsenal streets. However, Mr. Aiello said he told city officials and representatives of the Development Authority of the North Country that COR is “making several initial investments” in the property and wants to work with them “on potential options for a long-term redevelopment plan.”

Mr. Graham said the news will relieve the city of the big headache of worrying about the now-vacant complex’s fate and the prospects of having to take over the property through the cumbersome back-taxes process that could take a couple of years.

“The public does not have to worry, because the property is in responsible hands,” the mayor said.

Mr. Graham notified the Watertown City Council about the news immediately following a meeting between DANC and COR officials. He credited DANC officials with initiating the project with COR. DANC had worked with COR and established a relationship with Mr. Aiello on the Towne Center and Beaver Meadow projects, Mr. Graham said.

“We’ve have worked on it for some time,” Mr. Graham said. He stressed that there is no reuse for the Mercy buildings and that demolition is the only answer.

Jefferson County Legislature Chairwoman Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick said that while the county had no official responsibility for the property, legislators recognized the county may have had to contribute some in-kind services to assist the city if the building began to deteriorate.

“I think it’s terrific news,” Mrs. Fitzpatrick said. “I’m so pleased. The great part of all this is that COR Development Company gets things done. They follow through and get the job done.”

Mrs. Fitzpatrick said she has one wish for the project: that COR somehow incorporate a piece of the former building, possibly something from its chapel, into the new construction to honor the Sisters of Mercy, the Catholic order that operated the hospital for 105 years.

Mr. Aiello said COR is hoping to start demolition in the late summer and begin construction of multiple buildings next year. He said some buildings should be ready for occupancy in late 2014 or early 2015.

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