2017-08-10 / Opinion

EDITORIAL

Fate of Naval Hospital Land to be Determined

This week, city council reviewed a contract to prepare a real estate appraisal for the former Naval Hospital’s 225-acre property on Third Street. While there is excitement that this milestone has been reached, it is reasonable to wonder if it will take another decade to see real physical results.

The city has been pursuing the hospital property for nearly 10 years, after it was deemed excess by the Department of the Navy following the base realignment and closure. Newport originally put out a Request for Proposal for the appraisal in 2016; however, delays by the Navy in completing an Environmental Impact Statement postponed the awarding of a contract.

The company preparing the contract, Winthrop Real Estate Advisors, with offices in Boston and South Carolina, is a national firm with no relationship to Mayor Winthrop. The firm was chosen over three others who responded to the city’s Request for Proposals and will be paid no more than $27,500 to complete their work.

The appraisal company told the city that they will look at a number of options and provide financial data to support their recommendations for the best uses of the property. Some members of city leadership have expressed interest in seeing a hotel included in the reuse of the property. Redevelopment of the property will require preservation of the exteriors of the existing buildings, due to their inclusion in a National Register of Eligible (Historic) Districts. The preservation requirement could potentially limit the type of redevelopment, both from a physical and financial standpoint.

We are eager to see what recommendations Winthrop will present, and whether the city will accept them. As we have experienced with the proposed hotel at the former Yachting Center property, there will likely be requests from the public and potentially city boards and commissions to create access to the waterfront. To what extent that influences future development remains to be seen.

The success of the redevelopment will also be impacted by the Pell Bridge ramp realignment. If done properly, the former hospital property could serve as a critical link connecting the downtown area with future development in the North End of the city.

The appraisal company’s report is expected to be concluded 30 days after execution of their contract with the city. We anxiously await their findings and recommendations.

Private developers will most likely look at the approval process associated with the Yachting Center project and other waterfront projects to determine if the hospital property is financially viable. We trust that the city will support whatever conclusions the appraisal suggests, and we hope that the public has the opportunity to comment.

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