An aggressive time schedule for construction of a new city YMCA has Susquehanna Health ramping up plans to buy out properties between High Street and Park Avenue, just south of its new patient tower.
Health and local real estate representatives held an open house with property owners and tenants of affected homes Wednesday night to discuss what assistance they can expect.
At last week's announcement for the new YMCA, Dave Fagerstrom, CEO of the River Valley Regional YMCA, said a new facility could be under construction by September with a completion date just a year after that. The health system and YMCA are partnering to acquire land that would place a new Y within the hospital's institutional zone and part of its campus.
Barriers still are up in the middle lane of Walnut Street at High Street; however, the road to High Street now is open.
Speaking before the open house Wednesday, Rita Spangler, vice president of facility development with Susquehanna Health, said it is following similar steps when properties were purchased and razed from 2006 through 2009 to make way for its Project 2012 hospital campus enhancements.
"We think we've been very, very fair" to property owners concerning purchase prices, moving expenses and related costs with buyouts, Spangler said.
In this newest round of purchases, Susquehanna said it again will offer:
Fair market value for affected properties;
Payment for independent appraisals;
Payment of all closing costs and real estate commissions;
Payment for "all reasonable moving expenses" within a 40-mile radius of Williamsport; and
A $2,500 payment for each tenant household, including the same moving services as homeowners.
Steven P. Johnson, president and CEO of Susquehanna Health, said the organization is committed to serving patients from all three of its hospitals.
He said that part of the reason the health system remained in the city is because it was granted a larger institutional zone where it eventually could expand.
Johnson said the health system was wooed to keep one of the county's largest employers in the city.
"Stay here; we'll give you our houses. People said that," Johnson recalled about the health system's possible decision to combine all three hospitals at a 50-acre plot outside Montoursville several years ago.
He said city and county officials put on a "full court press" to keep the hospital in the city.
"They eventually prevailed," he said.
Some property owners are realizing that the cost to repair or renovate structures in the neighborhood is prohibitive, according to Johnson, adding that homes have been showing "significant physical decay." He also said the city and codes officials encouraged the razing of houses because of unsanitary conditions and higher incidents of crime.
Health system expansion in the city neighborhood will spur additional development and opportunities for private industry to possibly build housing for medical residents and Commonwealth Medical College students, according to Johnson.
He said the YMCA project is a "perfect partnership" that fits in with the health system's goal to incorporate wellness activities into its campus.
"We are very excited about this," he said.