Senior Housing: Nonprofit could buy old hospital, allowing senior housing redevelopment

by Michael Barrett for the Gaston Gazette

The same nonprofit group involved with efforts to restore the well-known Loray Mill has been enlisted to help breathe new life into a former hospital in Gastonia.

Gaston County commissioners on Thursday voted to offer Preservation North Carolina an option to purchase the historic hospital building in the Highland community. If federal tax credits can be secured next August to aid the project, the county will sell the hospital to the nonprofit for a nominal fee of $10.

Preservation North Carolina would then place a historic easement on the structure and enlist the help of The Landmark Group of Winston-Salem in converting it into 75 senor housing units.

If successful, it could be an eye-opening transformation for the 65-year-old eyesore at 401 N. Highland St. Situated at the Mauney Street intersection, it has been vacant for years and lurks like a decaying brick monstrosity over the neighborhood, officials say.

“What we’re going to do is take a detriment to that neighborhood that would be expensive to remove, and convert it into housing that would be an asset to the community,” said Gaston County Manager Jan Winters. “We would be doing that without any cost to the taxpayers, so we’re pleased to participate.”

Gastonia city leaders triggered the potential redevelopment earlier this year by searching for ways of cleaning up the property. Though the old hospital is county-owned, its location and diminished tax value have drawn the city’s attention.

Many residents who were born in the hospital and remember the importance it once had in Gaston County have advocated finding some way to restore it. Until recently, the city and county had focused on trying to tear it down affordably, due to its condition. Environmental Protection Agency rules for handling asbestos could push demolition costs to $750,000, Winters said.

But The Landmark Group recently surfaced as an interested developer. It has spearheaded more than 80 similar rehab projects in the past. And Landmark president and CEO Dewey Anderson said the hospital fits the mold of his company’s other ventures.

The city sold the Loray Mill to Preservation North Carolina to enhance the chances of getting crucial historic tax credits for a mixed-use redevelopment. Though that project has stalled with the economic downturn, the hospital renovation would have more things going for it, said Gastonia City Manager Jim Palenick.

“The added value of this is that it would be eligible for (low-income housing) historic tax credits,” he said. “The big thing will be for Landmark to put in their complete application and show they can be competitive for that allocation of tax credits.”

Gastonia would have to commit about $600,000 to the project to make it work. It would likely use revolving income that stems from a grant it received through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The city has invested those initial monies into affordable housing projects, which produce more dollars that can be reinvested in similar efforts, Palenick said.

“Right now, we’re buying foreclosed homes, rehabilitating and reselling them to people who qualify,” he said. “If this works out, funds from the first series of foreclosed home sales will go back to support this hospital project.”

The old hospital has been vacant since 2007, when the county relocated its elections, mediation, and probation and parole offices to a site on Franklin Boulevard.

Winters said the demolition of the hospital seemed to be a foregone conclusion until recently, but the new plans are more encouraging.

“It is a pleasant surprise,” he said.


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