Transfer was a good choice

Published 10:44 pm Thursday, February 14, 2013

For nearly a decade, the site of the old Obici Memorial Hospital has sat vacant, while the new Sentara Obici Hospital on Godwin Boulevard has stood as a testament to the good planning and forward thinking of the foundation Suffolk businessman and philanthropist Amedeo Obici set up before his death to honor his late wife and provide state-of-the-art health care options for the people of his adopted American home.

With its prime commercial location alongside one of the city’s best-traveled roads, there was good reason to expect that the old Obici site would be a highly regarded and sought-after piece of real estate, where residents would someday shop and eat and go for entertainment. But 10 years later, the parking lot and building pad are overgrown with weeds, and Suffolk apparently is no closer to settling a tenant there than it was when the old hospital was demolished in 2003.

There have been suitors for the property, and it was even sold to a developer in 2006 with the promise of a mixed-use development there that would have included a theater, residential units and commercial and office space. But those plans, like others, fell through, and the developer sold the property back to the city in 2008.

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Earlier this week, the Suffolk Economic Development Authority voted to accept a transfer of the 25-acre site at 1900 N. Main St. from the city. The EDA has had some success in marketing troubled sites in the past, Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes said, and it already has plans to jumpstart the process on the old hospital site. Those plans will begin with a request to rezone the property and remove the mixed-use overlay that dates back to its temporary owner to make it more attractive to developers.

Folks in historic and southern Suffolk have a long list of things they’d like to see built on the property — a Target store, a movie theater, a bowling alley, a town center-type retail development and others are popular suggestions. It remains to be seen whether any of those ideas could generate the kind of profitability a developer would need in order to justify the expense of buying and developing the property.

But transferring the Obici site to the city’s Economic Development Authority was a smart step for City Council to take. The professionals in Hughes’ department have a great track record and the tools necessary to turn that property from an overgrown eyesore to a vibrant economic engine.