MVHS Says Mayor Palmieri’s Surprise Sale Was a “Punch in the Stomach”
Last week. Utica Mayor Rob Palmieri was being criticized for an essay he wrote in the Observer-Dispatch in which he justified selling property in the Downtown Utica hospital footprint, as well as working to upend MVHS's plans to build a medical office building directly across the street. The medical building, according to the hospital is an integral part of the MVHS business plan, would severely interrupt their ability stay financially stable, according to hospital officials.
Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente started the criticism, saying Mayor Palmieri has been working against the project from the very beginning. He cites the fact that even if the Mayor was working for the Utica taxpayer's best interest, he should have been negotiating with the county and MVHS to come up with a solution that would benefit Utica, and not impede the future success of the Utica Hospital, the city's single largest construction project in decades. Instead, Picente claims, he's conducting his own business plan that is in contrast to the MVHS project and could actually put it in jeopardy.
The sale of the property intended for the MVHS medical office building has not yet closed, but the county is moving towards the use eminent domain in order to keep it inside the hospital footprint, which he says was always a vital part of the project.
Picente said the garage and medical office building have always a part of this project, and the city and Palmieri were well aware of that fact.
On Friday, it was MVHS's turn to reinforce that Palmieri has gone "rogue" and seems to be working against the hospital project even as it enters into its final year of construction.
MVHS CEO Darlene Stromstad said "it was a punch in the stomach" when she learned that Palmieri was selling to a favored developer (Bowers Development) from Syracuse, who would actually construct a competing medical facility in the very strategic location that MVHS had always intended to build. Stromstad called it "outrageous" and said Palmieri "has not made this project easy for us."
"The announcement that this outside developer had acquired that medical office building with the support and involvement of the mayor, was the single most devastating thing that has happened in my 3 years here, and was one of the most devastating things that has happened in my career," said Stromstad. Stromstad, who specializes in developing and working to construct new hospitals throughout the country, added that in past organizations "the Mayor and I were always on speed dial...we would resolve things together, in a very collaborative way." Stromstad said that for some reason in Utica, Palmieri seems to be working against them.
Is Palmieri Angry Over the Positioning of the Hospital?
Stromstad was asked about the rumor that Palmieri is angry over the location of the hospital and that he wanted it to be facing a different direction but because of research and studies, it was determined by MVHS that the current direction was strategically the best choice.
"There's a time as a leader and a CEO where I have to stand up and say this is not okay. This is not okay for this project to run into these unnecessary shots out of left field that are not helping the process at all. It is soul sucking, its frustrating, It costs us time, it costs us resources and it is completely unnecessary. If the Mayor doesn't like where the building is, it's time for him to get over it," said Stromstadt.
If the Mayor doesn't like where the building is, it's time for him to get over it
MVHS COO Bob Scholefield also confirmed that Palmieri was well aware that MVHS was going to construct a medical office building at 411 Columbia Street and that they had a Memorandum of Agreement with MVHS to lease parking spaces from the City at the Kennedy Garage. Still, Palmieri surprised both the county and the hospital when he announced that he had sold the Columbia Street property and Kennedy Garage to Bowers Development, a company that has purchased a handful of other properties through city hall. Furthermore Bowers Development is one of the 14 companies MVHS vetted at the beginning of the construction process and decided not to use for the construction of their multi-million hospital.
Stromstadt, who has been a part of hospital constructions through much of her career admitted that there's always a group of people such as "No Hospital Downtown" who resist the project for their own specific reasons. However, she said that in all of the cities she's built hospitals in, the resistance has never once come from the city's mayor, like it has in Utica.
WIBX has reached out to City Hall to speak with Mayor Palmieri on-air. So far, the mayor has not accepted the offer.