Nashvillians will be getting a new public health center after the Metro Council Tuesday night approved Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed land swap with health care giant HCA, exchanging city-owned property for land where the facility will be constructed.
Though the council voted 31-3 to approve the agreement, the proposal had originally drawn some scrutiny, with critics like Councilman Michael Craddock, Dean’s mayoral challenger, calling it a “sweetheart deal.”
No voices of dissent spoke up Tuesday night, however. The bill cleared third and final reading with zero discussion. Craddock and council members Jamie Hollin and Robert Duvall were the only “no” votes.
“This is a project we’ve talked about for a long time,” said Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling, who forecasts the center’s groundbreaking is perhaps six months away and believes it should complement the city’s new 28th/31st Avenue connector. “The health department is in great need of a new facility.”
The new center, slated for 3.5 acres of HCA-owned property at 2512 Charlotte Ave., will replace the outdated Lentz Public Health Center on 23rd Avenue. Under the agreement, HCA is to construct the facility, which is not to exceed $28.5 million. In doing so, the company is charged with obtaining bids for architectural, engineering and construction services, among other responsibilities. After the building is constructed, the new ownership of the properties becomes complete.
At the time of the closing, Metro is to compensate HCA for construction and architectural costs.
But the council’s vote Tuesday gives HCA a number of other incentives, in addition to the Lentz center land near Centennial Medical Center:
• Metro will pay interest at the rate of construction costs, plus a one-time $50,000 fee.
• HCA can enter a payment-in-lieu-of-tax agreement, allowing the company to be exempt from paying property taxes on the Lentz property for its first five years of ownership, and receive a 50 percent reduction for the next five years.
• HCA has the legal right to sell the property to a third party at any time.
Two years ago, the Lentz property had been appraised at $5.25 million, and the HCA property at $4.19 million.
New appraisals were finalized last week. The combination of appraisals conducted by both parties showed the Lentz property to be valued at about $6.125 million, and the HCA land at $4.5 million. The difference offsets Metro’s total cost by $1.625 million.
In another matter, the council unanimously approved a non-binding memorializing resolution sponsored by At-large Councilman Charlie Tygard that calls for the removal of embattled Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence from his position.
“This is one of the most unpleasant moments in 20-plus years of serving this government,” Tygard told his colleagues. “For when an elected official misuses the [public’s] trust, it hurts every elected official.”
A damning report recently aired by WSMV-TV showed Torrence works only three days a week and has used his office’s vehicle to run personal errands, including trips to a wine and spirits store. Torrence showed little remorse for his actions.
Though the council’s vote has no immediate effect, it could give District Attorney Torry Johnson just cause to turn to the seldom-used state “ouster clause,” which could lead to Torrence’s removal from office.