UTICA — Supporters and detractors of the proposed downtown hospital turned out in equal numbers Thursday for a community forum of polite discussion on the project.
Many of those in favor of the hospital being planned by the Mohawk Valley Health System spoke about progress and the need for the city to move forward.
“We think it’s needed,” said Lucretia Hunt, referring to some fellow members of the East Utica Neighborhood Watch Association. “We need to think outside the box. … We do need new hospitals.”
Some detractors questioned the obliteration of several blocks of city history to make way for the hospital.
“Forty percent of downtown Utica has been demolished for failed renewal projects,” said Michael Lehman, a trustee of the Landmarks Society of Greater Utica, adding that he fears the hospital will prove another failure.
The society met with the health system in April, Lehman said.
“The latest plan doesn’t seem to reflect any of those concerns,” he said.
The first forum took place at 2 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel–Utica Centre and another was scheduled for 6 p.m. Representatives of the Mohawk Valley Health System and its architectural firm, NBBJ, gave a presentation on the plan and then answered questions at small kiosks devoted to individual issues.
Participants then engaged in roundtable discussions, which someone at each table then summarized for the group. More than 70 attended the event, although many did not stay for the discussion.
The $480 million hospital will be built on a 25-acre campus with a parking garage, a medical office building and five parking lots in the neighborhood of Oriskany, Columbia and State streets and Broadway.
Pastor Chris Tringali of Turning Point Church, which is located in the hospital footprint, expressed the frustration of many property owners at how slow information has been to trickle down to them and the fear that they won’t be able to find another affordable location.
“I’m a church in the inner city,” Tringali said. “Any money I have comes from poor people.”
“Every single business leader feels like we’re going to lose,” he added.
Utica resident Michael Hajec, though, is a proponent of the hospital and came to the forum to make sure things are progressing. He liked what he saw and heard.
“I like what they’ve brought forth today," he said. "I like how they incorporated the downtown area. I think it fits in nicely with the Aud and the work that’s going on there. I think when it’s all said and done, it will look very nice.”
Gina Murtagh, a resident of Oneida Square, was less impressed. She’s worried that the area will lose its urban-industrial vibe. And she doesn’t like the look of 1,135 spaces of surface parking.
“I’m really dismayed actually,” she said, “that they’re moving where they’re moving and at least as much land as will be taken for the hospital will be taken for parking.”
Contact reporter Amy Neff Roth at 315-792-5166 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Roth).