Downtown Utica hospital forum displays deep division over the project

Dec 8, 2017

A public forum on the proposed new hospital in downtown Utica featured a very divided audience Thursday. The meeting that was intended to generate feedback about the hospital’s first design plans often devolved into arguments about whether the facility should even be built in that location.

Officials with the Mohawk Valley Health System aimed to get public input on the new hospital, which is currently only 30 percent designed. But at the breakout sessions during the forum, conversations turned to quarrels between those who say the new state-of-the-art health care facility could revitalize downtown Utica and those who argue that it's not worth the cost of losing historical buildings and existing businesses within the proposed 25-acre footprint.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid," one resident said. "And the thing is, why move at all? Why build something at all?"

"The way I see it, we are given a golden opportunity to get $300 million and by not accepting that that money will go elsewhere to the state," another resident responded.

"Fine."

"Fine? Why fine? Because you don't want anything new being built in the city of Utica?"

"The city of Utica can't afford this."

New York state is investing $300 million to help build the new hospital, but the city of Utica and Oneida County are splitting the cost of the adjacent parking garage that will hold 1,550 spaces.  

When the individual tables were encouraged to share their responses with the room, the answers ranged from constructive suggestions to outright opposition. Marcus Phillips shared his table's results, calling them very diverse.

"With regard to neighborhood connectivity, what should the new healthcare hospital connect to, and develop around it," Phillips said. "Some people think it's a black sinkhole that when you walk there you'll fall through and never be able to get to anything else in the city again. And then a lot of people think integrative medical facilities - stuff that can feed off of it. So, medical device buildings, office spaces to lease, places for lunch, loft apartments for doctors or medical professionals."

Project architect Kim Way said he considered the forum a success. 

"I think a meeting like this is very useful in communicating to people what you are doing," Way said. "I think we heard a lot of good feedback. A lot of it was an educational part of basically bringing the community to where we are in the project. That was exceptionally useful to us."