Tale Of Two Cities: Court Ruling On UHC Has Both Bridgeport, Clarksburg Preparing For Future

The Exponent Telegram

Sunday, December 4, 2005

By Jim Fisher – METRO EDITOR

CLARKSBURG - Between major steps forward this summer by the developers of Charles Pointe and Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling clearing the way for a new United Hospital Center, Bridgeport could see a major boom over the next decade or more.

"Anytime you have an investment that will approach $200 million and place jobs in a community, that becomes an economic engine," said Bridgeport Mayor Jim Christie, noting that the UHC jobs are not really new but still will add to Bridgeport’s economy.

The true boost will be from ancillary businesses supporting UHC, since the hospital itself will not pay business and occupation taxes. However, Bridgeport will see money from special construction B&O while the facility is being built.

UHC President Bruce Carter says the plan now is to maintain the Clarksburg Comprehensive Care Clinic, which is a mix of physicians’ offices and clinics. Once the new facility is built, the hospital will shift some administrative functions, such as billing and the business office, to the 4-Cs building as well. That will help save on space and some constructions costs for the new hospital, which are expected to balloon well past the initial $190 million estimate, thanks to about two years of court battles.

Fairmont General Hospital appealed the original Health Care Authority approval, as well as a subsequent affirmation by an administrative law judge, UHC appealed a Marion County judge’s ruling overturning those approvals. The state Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed Circuit Judge Fred Fox’s decision, clearing the way for the new hospital.

Also, the United Summit Center will remain on the campus, Carter said.

That will leave three empty buildings – the hospital itself, the parking garage and the doctor’s office building.

Even before the hospital’s move was approved several physicians and health care related businesses had inquired about available space at Charles Pointe, according to Bill Phillips Jr., spokesman for the planned community’s developer Genesis Partners.

"And when I say becoming a part of the community, I mean office buildings and housing," Phillips said. "Some of them are looking at it regardless of what the hospital does."

Although Charles Pointe has thousands of acres, much of the available opportunities are rapidly filling up, Phillips said. Part of that is because Charles Pointe is a planned community, meaning developers had a clear vision of what they wanted, from entertainment, retail and shopping to offices and housing – practically from the beginning.

Still, UHC should be a boost fro Charles Pointe and an added incentive for anyone looking to relocate there, Phillips and Christie said.

"With the new hospital, I think you’ll see a lot of doctors wanting to put offices there, I think you’ll see suppliers and vendors relocating there and I think you’ll se people who work there relocating there," Christies said. "I think you’ll see folks gravitating from southern Marion County, Taylor County and even other parts of Harrison County.

"It’s almost like building a ball field in an old area of a big city. It becomes an economic engine and other businesses gravitate to it," Christie said.

Even some Clarksburg officials are seeing a faint silver lining to the perceived black cloud of losing the hospital.

City leaders say this makes the proposed U.S. 98 connector road even more important, as it will increase the development value of the land in that area and could help entice someone to find a reuse for the hospital building.

In fact, the entire western part of Clarksburg is a priority for city Manager Martin Howe, who believes that is where Clarksburg must expand and develop. And the hospital leaving doesn’t change that, he said.

"The conversation will be what their plans are for that building," Howe said. "If there’s any development out there, I think it will be a domino effect and keep bringing in more."

As for the hospital’s plans, UHC already has contracted with McCabe-Henley to market the building. Carter says possible reuses could range from selling to a for-profit business to deeding it to a non-profit. But the bottom line is, the building will not sit empty for long, even if it has to be demolished, Carter said.

In fact, the hope is that by beginning the marketing process with construction of the new hospital, a new tenant can be moving in the front door while UHC is leaving through the back.

Carter plans to form a committee to include such interests as the city, county, development authority and hospital to determine the best possible use for the building and/or property.

"Once it’s empty, it becomes a liability to everybody," he said, noting that even empty, UHC must maintain utilities.

"The goal is to get a new hospital and (also) create jobs for Clarksburg," Carter said. "It sounds easy, but it won’t be easy. It’s a large building with a fairly unique design, so reuse is limited. Whoever comes in here is going to have to prepare for a certain amount of rehabilitation."

Still, it’s not unprecedented. Carter said he visited a hospital in Norfolk, VA., that built a new facility nearby. The old hospital eventually wound up being converted into a community college.

Regardless of what happens with the hospital, Howe said Clarksburg officials are committed to developing westward.

"I think the city needs to plan and look ahead," he said. "What I’m trying to do now is talk to council about expanding and moving west. I think in the long run that will be a valuable piece of property out there to the west."