The Watertown Local Development Corp. has devised a strategy to gain control of the soon-to-be-vacant Mercy Care complex.
At an Advantage Watertown meeting Thursday morning, Donald W. Rutherford, CEO of the corporation also known as the Watertown Trust, described how he would approach GE Capital, the lienholder, about acquiring the 420,000-square-foot complex on Stone Street.
City officials and business leaders are concerned about what will happen once Samaritan Medical Center vacates the complex in March and moves into its 288-bed assisted-living and skilled-nursing facility off outer Washington Street.
Mr. Rutherford said it might be better to use a process that works backward by going directly to GE Capital and persuading the mortgage holder to begin foreclosure proceedings against Mercys owner, MGNH Inc.
In October, Samaritan paid the $211,159 in back property taxes on the nursing home, so it is now current.
In the past, city officials have talked about obtaining the complex through the cumbersome tax sale process that would take about three years to complete.
Mr. Rutherford suggested GE Capital might be interested in unloading the property through foreclosure since it seems highly unlikely it will ever get its financial return. The giant lending firm then would be compensated for the foreclosure expenses and be provided a minimal incentive to complete the transaction.
If that happens, the next step would be finding a developer to convert the nursing home into multi-family housing. There also would have to be an effort to find public funding for the demolition of unusable sections of the complex and for asbestos removal, Mr. Rutherford said.
He said he has a couple of developers in mind to discuss potential redevelopment. He will meet with an out-of-town developer today on a different matter, but said he plans to bring up the venture.
But Advantage Watertown member Brian H. Murray suggested that Mr. Rutherford should explore whether it would be better to purchase the note on the property from GE Capital, rather than go through foreclosure.
Thats a good idea, Mr. Rutherford said, adding he will look into it.
If no action is taken, it could be 2015 before the city can take control of Mercy through tax delinquency, and then the building will be a mess, Mr. Rutherford said.
Afterward, Mr. Rutherford said approaching MGNH is difficult because we dont know who they are.
Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham explained that MGNHs major principal, Gary Sazer, has died and the city does not know whether MGNH continues to be an entity.
The new strategy came up during a brainstorming session that Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, held a couple of weeks ago about what can be done with Mercy Care. Last year, the assemblywoman arranged similar meetings with community and business leaders to talk about the issue.
Earlier this year, some Advantage Watertown members expressed frustration about the lack of progress on the issue.