Legislature approves UMass Lowell's plan to obtain hospital building

08/06/2007
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

By Erik Arvidson
Sun Statehouse Bureau

BOSTON - The University of Massachusetts Lowell's plan to swap land with a private developer to acquire the former St. Joseph's Hospital property has been approved by the House and Senate and now only awaits the governor's signature.

Lawmakers approved several minor revisions to the bill proposed by the Romney administration last month, and Lowell lawmakers expect the governor to sign the bill next week.

Both the university and local lawmakers said they did not find the governor's proposals objectionable and went along with the changes.

"It's been a long time coming, but we've gotten through it, and the end result is that we have something good for the university and the city," said Chris Dunlap, a spokeswoman for UMass Lowell.

The bill authorizes UMass Lowell to transfer ownership of its portion of the Wannalancit Mill complex, located at 600 Suffolk St., to developer John F. Power and his firm, Farley White Interests.

Power would transfer ownership of the former St. Joseph's Hospital building to the university. Power is currently negotiating the purchase of the former hospital.

The university would house its School of Health and Environment in the former hospital building, which is in the city's Acre neighborhood. The university hopes it will help bring economic revitalization to the area.

Power's firm would gain ownership of the entire Wannalancit complex.

"This will give us room to spread out a little bit and make use of a building that can be the anchor for that street," Dunlap said.

Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey last month sent back the bill asking that lawmakers remove a section that would establish a nonprofit corporation that would take ownership of the hospital and lease it back to UMass. Healey said the provision was "convoluted," and the bill was changed so the state would take ownership.

Another change now requires a hazardous waste inspection before the state acquires the land.

"We understand that this is a long process and that revisions happen along the way. We're just glad it went through," Dunlap said.

Lowell Democratic Rep. David M. Nangle said he expected the governor to sign the bill because each of the revisions were agreed to.

Lawmakers approved the measure on a voice vote. The Legislature is on a five-month recess from formal sessions, however noncontroversial matters can still be considered.

Erik Arvidson's e-mail address is earvidson@lowellsun.com .