The Obici deal

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 9, 2005

At first glance, the deal announced by the city Wednesday to acquire the old Obici Hospital property appears to be a win-win situation.

The hospital gets a likely needed cash infusion, while the city gets control of a key piece of property in the heart of the downtown area’s commercial hub. In other words, it’s not likely we’ll see another waterfront car lot or chicken franchise on the property.

Councilwoman Linda Johnson was the only member of city council opposed to the deal, and as is usually the case, she made a compelling case against it.

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Basically, she said the city should not be engaging in activity normally reserved for the private sector – in this case, real estate speculation – and that the city should not be engaged in &uot;speculative zoning,&uot; something forbidden by private developers with whom the city was apparently competing with for the property.

Johnson pointed out that the land is not currently zoned to allow for the &uot;mixed-use development.&uot;

In fact, according to Johnson, such zoning does not even exist, despite the pleas for it from private developers.

While we are always opposed to a government entity using taxpayer money to compete against private sector interests, this particular deal could serve the overall good, provided that what we would refer to as &uot;Obician principles&uot; are upheld.

By that, we are referring to something that benefits the public good. The land in question was purchased with Amedeo Obici’s money in accordance with his wishes that a hospital be built there to serve the citizens of Suffolk. It was his intent that the property benefit everyone in Suffolk. That wish should continue to be honored.

That service could take any number of forms: Space in whatever is developed there could be set aside for public use; or, better yet, perhaps the city could lease the land to developers rather than sell it, assuring a steady, long-term stream of income that could be earmarked for things like affordable housing or recreation. This has been done successfully in other communities.

So while we agree whole-heartedly with Johnson that government should leave profit-making investment and development activities to private interests, the Obici property is a special case. This property was intended to benefit the people of Suffolk and the city is the only owner that can see to it that that remains the case. We trust that is what city officials had in mind in acquiring the property and not simply increasing government control over development.