2013-09-12 / Naval Community

Navy Hospital Topic of Executive Session

By Tom Shevlin

The future use of, and how best to develop, the former Navy Hospital property located just north of the Pell Bridge was the topic of an executive session this week held by City Council members following their regular monthly meeting on Sept. 11.

According to City Manager Jane Howington, the meeting was being held behind closed doors due to the sensitive nature of the property and the legal restrictions that guide the federally directed disposition process. Similar meetings were also held in recent days in Middletown and Portsmouth, where council members there weighed in on their preferred paths to develop a cluster of broad swaths of Navy property being eyed for sale or redevelopment.

Newport's meeting called for the same type of debate.

Since learning several years ago that the former hospital site would be relinquished as a Navy asset, community planners here have been dreaming of the day when the property would become available for reuse.

Working through the process with an island-wide consortium made up of municipal stakeholders, guided by the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission, city planners here have been busy studying what the property's highest and best use will be.

Most see the property as being conducive to a mixed-use facility that takes advantage of the hospital's waterfront acreage and easy access to and from the Pell Bridge.

However, how the city moves that process from concept to reality is – like the federal process that has led up to this point – a bit complicated.

On Wednesday, councilors discussed just that.

As Howington explained, the ultimate decision for the council is to determine the best way to move the project forward.

"Does the city really want to be the owner of the property," she said, "or should the Navy put it out to auction?"

Those are just two options of many.

Another could involve the city entering into an agreement with the Navy to develop the property jointly.

"Depending on how you go, you have to declare to the federal government which process you want to follow," Howington explained. "We’re kind of at a point where the councils need to give some direction."

In the end, the issue is likely going to come down to two elements: risk and control.

On one hand, councilors will have to consider how much financial exposure they are comfortable with. On the other hand, they will have to decide what degree they want the city to be involved in determining the kinds of businesses, public access, and general use allowed at the property.

"With us, it gets to be a real risk evaluation," Howington said. "How much risk does the city want to take on?"

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