About 100 seniors learned Tuesday afternoon they must leave the 45-year-old facility they call home, making way for a new downtown development.
The residents of St. Barnabas Apartments on Sixth and Pine streets have at least six months to move out before the property is taken over by developer John Clark.
"I'm devastated," said 78-year-old Christyna Jensen moments after hearing the news. "I wanted to cry."
Clark said plans are still in the early stages. He's unsure what will become of the site, but expects to have a plan in place by the time the deal closes.
HISTORY OF ST. BARNABAS
Sept. 16, 1965 - The 87-bed St. Barnabas Nursing Home opens
1966 - St. Barnabas Apartments opens adjacent to the nursing home
2000 - The nonprofit's board realizes the apartment is losing money, implements a plan to increase revenue by moving its nursing home to a location next to Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation
July 16, 2007 - The new St. Barnabas Nursing Home opens next to Siskin
Dec. 6, 2011 - St. Barnabas Apartments announces it's closing
Source: Mark Keown, St. Barnabas board member
Board member Mark Keown said the apartment complex has been surviving on subsidies from the organization's nursing home for years. About 80 percent of St. Barnabas's revenue comes from the nursing home, making it next to impossible to keep the apartments open.
"That's not a feasible thing to do. We can't refinance, we can't pay off any of our debt," he said.
To have kept the apartments afloat, Keown said St. Barnabas would haveneeded to raise $150,000 and doubled or tripled rent in the roughly $1,000 regular and assisted living apartments.
"They're doing the best they can, I know," Jensen said. "They wouldn't do this on purpose."
But the board's best wasn't good enough to keep the apartments profitable. About 10 years ago, the board realized revenue wasn't covering expenses. They came up with a plan to move the adjacent retirement home to a facility next to Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation, where they expected to work closely with the medical facility.
The board supposed retirement home revenue would increase, allowing it to subsidize the apartment complex, but construction costs were higher than expected and plans with Siskin fell through.
The apartment complex also saw management problems, such as the purchase of a $120,000 phone system that couldn't be used in the facility.
But explanations offer little solace to residents such as Joe York, who has lived in the complex for three years. York moved to the apartments when his wife had to check into the St. Barnabas nursing home. After she died, he decided to stay where he was. He'd lived in Chattanooga since 1954 and liked the community in which he had recently settled.
"I was shocked," he said. "I want to stay in the neighborhood."
The apartment complex's 40 staff members, all of whom are expected to transfer to the other St. Barnabas facility, will spend the next few months helping people like York find new places to live.
Beth Baxter, the apartments' resident service director, said she's already begun collecting location preferences and financial information on her residents to get them placed in new apartments. Space for everyone who wants to stay in the area will be tight, she said, but the housing market for the elderly is strong enough to bear the load.
But Jensen doesn't expect any seniors facility could be an improvement on St. Barnabas. She likes the other residents, has no trouble getting to her bank and walks to church.
She's not particularly worried about finding a new place to live, she said, but "everywhere else isn't where I want to be."
Contact Carey O'Neil at email@example.com or 423-757-6525.