By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TRENTON — City officials were optimistic last week with signs of progress at the former Riverside Hospital, reports that were not tempered with the qualifications that had clouded past predictions.
City Administrator Jim Wagner said work crews have begun doing what has been hoped for years.
“For the first time in a long time we’re seeing some progress as it relates to alleviating the problem,” Wagner said, “and seeing the beginning of development and redevelopment of the site.”
In the past, Wagner, Mayor Kyle Stack and other city officials had been cautious if not skeptical of promises made regarding the long-vacant site. The former Riverside Osteopathic Hospital on Jefferson has sat unused for years, its grounds targeted by vandalism and luring curiosity seekers drawn by rumors of ghosts.
The complex has been frequently cited in police reports after attracting drifters and others, and the eyesore has been a point of contention with the city.
This past spring, Stack and Wagner presented what may be the final ultimatum to property owner Dr. Iqbal Nasir, who purchased the property from Henry Ford Health Systems in 2009 and had plans for a nursing home. Instead, unable to get deed modifications from HFHS, Nasir began a similar project in another community and Riverside sat untouched until recently.
Following a March Brownfield Redevelopment Authority meeting, Stack gave Nasir until May 15 to begin abatement work — much of it to address environmental concerns — or the matter would leave city hall and head for court. The priority issues to be addressed include demolition in August of a church house and boiler room, both of which have fallen into disrepair as has the main building, which remains scheduled for August according to city officials.
Wagner said that last week crews removed a gas line from the property, were taking out asbestos and other contaminants, and the next steps should fall into place.
“Hopefully in the immediate-near future, in the next 30 days they should begin demolishing the power house and church building,” Wagner said. “The equipment is there, now they just have to get a permit for the demolition.”
While the signs of progress are finally visible, Wagner said it remains a long journey to complete. Nasir may not be able to obtain enough deed adjustments to realize his original plans, but Wagner said that there was reason for optimism as the early efforts have begun a process that should avoid having to declare the building dangerous and engage in a lengthy court battle. Once the site is cleared, Wagner said it shouldn’t be difficult to find interest in developing the property if Nasir’s original plan fails to be brought to completion.
“He’s making progress,” Wagner said. “Some of the things that needed to get done are getting done right now. When somebody wants to move forward (as Nasir has), it’s a plus.”
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected])