Tens years ago, state officials confirmed that the sprawling Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital in Rome would be shuttered.
The hospital was one of the state-run mental health facilities at that time and was closed as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice regarding treatment of patients in the state’s seven psychiatric hospitals.
State and local leaders have been trying to figure out what to do with the 130-acre property near Redmond Circle ever since.
Last year the state did not include ongoing maintenance funds for the hospital site. That changed Thursday when the budget submitted by Gov. Brian Kemp included $4 million for what State Rep. Eddie Lumsden classified as basic upkeep.
The primary obstacle to any kind of deal regarding the property has always been state-bonded indebtedness on the property.
Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, said the state is simply not in a position to give away the property.
“We’re closer now than we were a year ago,” Dempsey said. “The brightest spot is that the bond has been reduced and that is going to make it more possible.”
In late September of last year, that debt was $2.63 million. Officials at the State Properties Commission, as well as the House State Properties committee, did not respond to a request from the Rome News-Tribune on Friday for an update on the debt.
As part of an earlier attempt to sell the property, the state gave the city of Rome an option to purchase the property. But that option expired in June 2017.
The property was envisioned as a place that could generate between 2,000 and 3,000 jobs and local taxes of between $1.2 million and $1.4 million annually.
The team of consultants recommended a mixture of advanced manufacturing, high-tech industry, medical, multi-family residential uses along with a limited amount of retail space.
Nothing ever came to fruition even though the city hired consultants who developed a mixed-use, master plan for the property which is valued on Floyd County tax maps at $8.24 million.
In April 2019 a licensing agreement was revealed between the state and Global Impact International, led by Jeff and Mary Margaret Mauer, who conducted a press conference in the chapel of the former state hospital to discuss plans for a HOPE Village.
Their concept involves the creation of a massive site that would be the point of delivery for a wide variety of social services.
However, since then nothing physically has changed at the hospital.
This week Rome City Manager Sammy Rich and Floyd County Manager Jamie McCord, during their State of the Community program, each stressed the importance of the hospital property to the community.
Rich offered up images from the mixed-use recommendations of the consultants and never made mention of the HOPE Village project.
Friday, Global Impact Jeff Mauer said that his organization was still moving full steam ahead with their project.
“It’s absolutely something that we’re still working with the state on,” Mauer said. “I know that the development authority had interest in the property back when and I understand they’ve had some recent developments that may have rekindled that.”
If the city and county have interest it’s their prerogative, Mauer said, but that it hasn’t in any way slowed down plans for HOPE Village.
During his HOPE Village kick-off press conference, Mauer introduced former Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher who has been intimately involved in the development of similar facilities in the Bluegrass State.
The Fletcher Group was brought into the project largely for the purpose of providing assistance with both service delivery based on their Kentucky model, and expertise in fundraising.
What is clearly apparent is that funds have not been generated by any interested party to overcome the state debt on the property.
The property is large enough for it to be possible that the Mauer group could take a portion of the property for HOPE Village, Dempsey said, while other portions of the property could be available for tax generating purposes.