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Paul Muschick on Allentown State Hospital: Finally, a plan that makes sense

Twenty or 30 years from now, we don’t want to be second-guessing whether the right decision was made about how to redevelop the Allentown State Hospital property.City and state officials must hold out for a real winner, a project that will invigorate east Allentown. Settling for anything less would be a mistake. The hospital encompasses 195 acres along one of the city’s entrance ways, Hanover Avenue. That’s a lot of land in a good location. Opportunities such as this don’t come along often in an older, developed city. The best way to get a winner is to seek multiple ideas from multiple people. That’s why I support Monday’s proposal from state Sen. Pat Browne for the state to call off its exclusive negotiations with one hand-picked developer and instead have a competitive bidding process. It’s wise, and overdue.New plan for Allentown State Hospital: Tear it down first, then find a buyerIt’s been nearly two years since the state passed a law, also authored by Browne, that gave TCA Properties LP of Doylestown the lone shot at redeveloping the state-owned site. The city and state can’t wait indefinitely for a deal to be reached.Give Browne credit for recognizing it was time for plan B. State lawmakers should back his new plan and pass legislation to kill the TCA deal and start over.Browne’s proposal, Senate Bill 701, would resolve another concern — that local input be considered on the project.A committee would be formed to review proposals and recommend a buyer. Members would be Browne, who represents the area; Mike Schlossberg, the state representative for the area; an Allentown official; and the state Secretary of General Services, or their designees.If the group doesn’t like the redevelopment plans it receives through the bidding process, it should scrap them all. There’s no reason to settle for the best of a mediocre bunch of options. Solicit proposals as many times as necessary until a gem rises.A developer would be chosen based on best value and return on investment, which in addition to price may include “the proposed use of the property, job creation, return to the property tax rolls and other criteria specified in the solicitation documents,” according to the legislation.Browne’s bill calls for the state to demolish the 28 buildings on the site before seeking bids. I don’t see the harm in leaving them there.I’m not convinced they have as much historic value as the vocal group that is calling for their preservation. I just think leaving them is more practical.Allentown State Hospital: It’s not about the buildings but the landThe developer can decide whether to keep them. If the winning plan calls for a blank canvas, the developer can knock them down. Taxpayers wouldn’t bear the cost, an estimated $15 million, and I suspect it could be done for less if done privately anyway. Things like that always seem to cost more when done by government.Leaving the buildings in place also would expedite the process. Bids could be taken as soon as the legislation passes, instead of waiting for the state to clear the site.The property has been vacant since the hospital closed in 2010. It costs taxpayers $2.2 million a year to maintain. That’s a waste.Browne’s proposal is a second chance to start the process. Let’s make sure it’s the last time there’s any second-guessing.Morning Call columnist Paul Muschick can be reached at 610-820-6582 or paul.muschick@mcall.com
Source: Morningcall

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