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03/29/2012

Old St. Joseph Hospital property on south Main to come down beginning this summer

FORT WORTH — The Tarrant County Hospital District plans to spend about $5.5 million to tear down the vacant St. Joseph Hospital complex on south Main Street and begin the process this summer.

On Thursday, the tax increment finance district that helps with development on the near south side approved giving the hospital district $2.5 million toward that work. The money, $833,333, will be paid annually for three years beginning in June 2013.

Paul Paine, president of Fort Worth South, the nonprofit that manages the TIF district, in asking the TIF board to approve the expenditure, said a redevelopment of the property is cost-prohibitive. The property is also rapidly deteriorating after sitting vacant for nearly a decade, he said.

"We have looked at this thing for years," Paine said. "The building’s got to go. It’s rapidly becoming a safety issue. Let’s help them so it can be done now."

The tax-supported hospital district, which operates as the JPS Health Network, will start the demolition in the second quarter with an asbestos abatement. The demolition, though, will take about a year to complete because the 12-story building will be dismantled, and not taken down by implosion or a wrecking ball.

The complex consists of 10 buildings totaling about 570,000 square feet of space and covers 6 acres. A parking garage will not be torn down.

The hospital district bought the property in 2008 for $5.1 million from Diversified Capital in New Jersey. Diversified Capital bought the property out of foreclosure in 2005 and planned to redevelop the buildings into apartments, offices and shops.

John Peter Smith Hospital is across Main Street from the St. Joseph property.

The land will be converted to green space until the hospital district determines its expansion plans, and it will feature an exercise course, said Robert Earley, CEO and president of the JPS Health Network.

"We’ll put it to good use until the next building goes up," he said.

More than 20,000 bricks will be saved in the demolition and used to build a memorial, fountain or walkway to commemorate St. Joseph Hospital, Earley said.

St. Joseph Hospital was founded in by nuns in 1885 as Tarrant County’s first hospital. The property had been expanded several times during the past 100 years. In 1994, Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. bought St. Joseph and closed the facilities a year later. The property was sold in 1997 to a California company that operated an Alzheimer’s center from a portion of it for about two years before going into bankruptcy.

A few small tenants continued to use the property until 2004, when they were forced to leave when the building’s cooling system failed.

_ Sandra Baker

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