Council gives EDA Obici site

Published 10:58 pm Thursday, February 7, 2013

Suffolk City Council transferred the former Obici Hospital site to the Economic Development Authority with a unanimous vote Wednesday night.

The idea is for the EDA to use its resources to market the 25-acre site, Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes said.

Located on North Main Street near its intersection with Godwin Boulevard, the site of the former hospital has sat vacant for 10 years. A number of attempts to sell and develop the property have fallen through.

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The hospital was razed in 2003, and the city bought the building soon after. The most significant of the aborted attempts to develop the property was by Robinson Development, which bought it in 2006. After failing to get a theater operator to anchor the site, which was also set to include residential units, commercial and office space, a restaurant, bank, parking garage and more, the company sold it back to the city in 2008.

Hughes said the EDA has had success in recent years developing sites that proved troublesome before they were turned over to the authority.

He noted the EDA owns part of the Fairgrounds development in downtown that houses the Health and Human Services building, complete with a pond, walking trail and parking.

The building “was essentially the catalyst to take that Fairgrounds project, which was always a great concept, from the drawing boards into reality,” he said. “Without that partnership between the City Council and the Economic Development Authority, you would not see those homes coming out of the ground and people moving into them.”

Once the health department moved into that building, that opened up another vacant site on North Main Street, Hughes said. It also was turned over to the EDA, and Hughes said the buildings now are fully leased and include a Panera Bread restaurant and Sleepy’s mattress store. An nTelos Wireless store is set to open Friday, and workers hung a SweetFrog “coming soon” banner at another spot there on Wednesday.

“I think we’re completely leased on that site,” Hughes said. “It’s our intention to follow that same partnership between the EDA and the council on the Obici site.”

In an earlier work session, the Obici site came up in a discussion on capital improvements. A plan under consideration by the council suggests spending $2.1 million in fiscal year 2014-2015 to relocate the site’s entrance to align with Northgate Avenue, install traffic signals and create turn lanes and raised medians, and to move overhead utilities underground along the parcel’s street frontage.

Councilman Mike Duman was hesitant to spend the money.

“I don’t exactly understand why we are picking up that expense with public dollars if there’s a possibility we can find a buyer for that property who would be willing to do that,” Duman said, adding that he might be more willing if city leaders felt it would help the property be much more marketable.

City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn said he would learn more detail in the closed session, which had an item regarding the disposition of the property.