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Old hospital building needs a new lease on life, but takers are few

fr oldhospitalWhat to do with a hulking, four-story, run-down, decades-old, now-empty former hospital in Waynesville?

A feasibility study commissioned jointly by Haywood County, the town of Waynesville and the Haywood Advancement Foundation hopes to answer that question, and once and for all find a purpose for the old hospital building.

The three entities will commission the UNC School of Government to evaluate and recommend various redevelopment options for the old hospital. The old hospital moved out three decades ago, but it was repurposed as an office building to house the county’s Department of Social Services. Plagued by high maintenance costs, however, the county bailed on the cramped decrepit quarters and moved its social services department to a new site last year.

The county, town and non-profit economic development arm, Haywood Advancement Foundation, will toss in $4,000 each to help fund the study — a price worth paying, according to Haywood County Manager Marty Stamey.

“We are spending a lot more than $4,000 a year to have that thing sit,” Stamey said.

The county budgets about $50,000 a year for maintenance and heating of the old hospital — the thermostat is kept very low just to keep pipes from freezing — which is a big part of the reason why the county wants to put the building to use.

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“Empty buildings are obviously not productive,” said Mark Clasby, executive director of the Haywood County Economic Development Commission and the Haywood Advancement Foundation.

Plus, if the county can find a private company to buy the building, it would benefit from additional tax revenue.

Constructed in the 1920s, the building is designated a historic landmark, with certain tax credits available for people looking to reuse the building.

Tax credits and other financing options will be part of the School of Government’s assessment. The two- to three-month study period will include a tour of the building and an analysis of similar projects from other communities as well as an evaluation of its redevelopment potential, both public and private, financing options and possible public-private partnerships. The school plans to begin work in January.

“It sounds like a pretty neat program,” Clasby said, calling it “a great opportunity” for the county, town and Haywood Advancement Foundation to work together.

The UNC team will be comprised of faculty and graduate students who are part of the Development Finance Initiative, which was created to help with such local government projects. The Development Finance Initiative will also contribute $6,000 in private funding for the study.

Possible takers for the building have fallen through over the past year.

One attractive option was to renovate the building for low-income senior housing; the plan even got as far as being drawn up. Championed by Mountain Projects, a local nonprofit social services agency, the plan fell through when it failed to qualify for low-income housing tax credits, which were a lynchpin of the project’s financial feasibility.

Then, there was talk of the regional mental health agency Smoky Mountain Center moving in. But, that never gained traction, preventing the county from offloading the vacant structure.

Haywood County began advertising the sale of the old hospital earlier this year and is asking $1.25 million.

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