As Rome and Floyd County leaders look at strengthening the ability of the area to accommodate industrial expansion or lure new businesses, the large centrally-located former Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital property hasn’t been far from their minds.
In August they took their case for acquiring the state-owned property directly to Gov. Brian Kemp. While no decision was made in the weeks following that 20-minute meeting, there’s hope for a resolution.
Rome-Floyd County Development Authority President Missy Kendrick said she expects to hear something, good or bad, sooner rather than later.
Kendrick, City Manager Sammy Rich, Mayor Craig McDaniel, County Manager Jamie McCord, County Commission Chair Wright Bagby, RFCDA Chairman Jimmy Byars and secretary Doc Kibler were joined by state Reps. Eddie Lumsden and Katie Dempsey, as well as state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, in that meeting.
Kendrick said the governor was well versed on the history of the property.
“We’ve been dealing with him (the state) for months now,” Kendrick said. There have been offers and counter offers, like in any real estate deal.
It’s been over 10 years since 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. It 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 property near Redmond Road ever since. Rich said what is most attractive about the site is that it is an intact 130-acre complex with all of the utilities in place.
“It’s expensive to run utilities to a site, and so you’ve got this very large tract that has rail access, water and sewer — you’ve got every available utility you could possibly need,” Rich said.
A question about the redevelopment of the site involves the potential, or need, to demolish the numerous buildings still there. If the site was acquired, one way or another the buildings would have to come down. The real question would be who would demolish them.
The primary obstacle to any deal regarding the property has always been the debt the state still owes on bonds issued to improve the hospital’s facilities before the decision to shut it down.
As of July 2021, the state has over $2 million in bonded debt on the property, said Rome Mayor Craig McDaniel, who holds a seat on the development authority.
So far, the state has focused on paying off those bonds.
The entire property has been appraised at between $4 million and $6 million, which means the purchase price today, including the bond debt, could range up to more than $8 million.
Rome and Floyd County don’t have that much money available.
The 2013 and 2017 SPLOST packages included a total of $9.55 million to purchase additional industrial property or improve existing properties. But, as of a December 2020 report, $3.5 million of those funds have already been spent.
Another $4 million has been earmarked to buy a large site off U.S. 411 at Bass Ferry Road, leaving just over $2 million in the economic development pot.
Earlier plans and potential
As part of an earlier attempt to sell the NWGRH property, the state gave the city of Rome an option to purchase it. But that option expired in June 2017.
The property had been 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.
There are also two dozen brick homes just off North Division Street that are part of the property. Those homes were used by staff at the hospital and have sat dormant since it closed in 2011.
Those state-owned homes appear to be in a state of slow decay, and there’s no indication of when that will change.
The state has not entertained the idea of selling off those homes separately from the rest of the sprawling hospital property up to this point.
As far as the homes go, there’s been interest from several quarters.
Northwest Georgia Housing Authority Executive Director Sandra Hudson is one of those potential buyers. She had expressed serious interest in acquiring the homes.
Another group had plans for the property as well as the homes as part of a larger vision.
Jeff Mauer, whose Global Impact International had hoped to develop a Hope Village on the former hospital campus, said the homes were an integral part of their plan.
The Hope Village concept involved a comprehensive facility offering residential treatment for drug and alcohol rehabilitation, transitional recovery housing and outpatient services.
Mauer’s group had an 18-month license to undertake due diligence in investigating the property, but that period of time also has passed.