Residents of Northwest Georgia on Wednesday rallied to support a new $100 million hospital planned for Battlefield Parkway between Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe, but what happens to the building left behind could be just as impactful to the growth and development of Catoosa County's biggest city.
The site of the existing CHI Memorial Hospital Georgia and former Hutcheson Hospital building, at 100 Gross Crescent in Fort Oglethorpe, was transferred to Catoosa County Economic Development Authority in December 2021, according to a news release from the time. Built in 1953, the 378,000 square foot building sits on 30 acres. It was valued at $9.7 million dollars at the time of transfer.
At the Stand Down Parkridge rally, Chuck Harris, a Catoosa County commissioner re-elected in Tuesday's Republican primary, said a few a words about what was being planned for the hospital building and what it could do for this part of Fort Oglethorpe. He also said local elected officials hold a regular open-to-the-public meeting where representatives from the two major Catoosa cities, county officials and county school officials gather to discuss planning.
Catoosa County owns the building now, Harris said. He said there are a lot of exciting things planned for the building, but he said that can only happen if CHI Medical Group can build the hospital it has planned.
"Once that happens, then the dominoes start to fall and good things start happening all around," Harris said at Stable 41, the location of Fort Oglethorpe's farmers market. Harris said nobody used to want to come to this part of town, but now it's going to be "the epicenter" of "every good thing happening."
"And if you look right up on that hill, that's going to be a business incubator, or it's going to be senior housing, or it's going to be deluxe apartments," Harris said. "It can be anything we want it to be, but it can't be anything until we get a hospital."
In a news release at the time of the transfer, Catoosa County EDA's then-director, Keith Barclift, said local officials were beginning the process of community input for a master plan that would be completed by mid-2022. Barclift could not be reached for comment for this story.
The hospital building has "good bones" and is in "solid shape," John Pless, public information officer for Catoosa County, said. He said there are a lot of planners, architects and elected officials working on plans for the site, but he said he hasn't heard about any public visioning meetings or committees.
"A lot of people are in play to determine what to do with this [district] next," Pless said. "The grand scheme is to re-develop the whole district."
Enhanced crosswalks, bike lanes and plantings have already been installed thanks to grant funding, and he said last year the walls were taken off of the Stable 41 building. The Stable 41 upgrade was the first big piece of the district's re-development, he said.
Lots of ideas have been floated for the area, Pless said, and local elected officials are working hard to bring more life to that part of the city.
"It's an area that could be vibrant again, because the park attracts history buffs and nature buffs," he said. A lot of the local businesses closed in that area when a bypass road diverted traffic around it, he said.
Using a walker, Rick Reachard was returning to his car after a visit to the CHI Memorial Georgia. As he caught his breath between the two flights of stairs, he said he didn't have any ideas on what Catoosa County should do with the building.
"It looks like it'd be a great place for a school or something, doesn't it? It's so huge," he said after thinking about it. "What else are they gonna do?"
Reachard said he probably wouldn't get involved in a community visioning effort if one is held because he lives in Ringgold and doesn't come to Fort Oglethorpe much.
Payton Mayes, the owner of The Helm Tattoo & Piercing on Lafayette Road near Stable 41, sat tattooing a flower on the hip of a blonde woman. He didn't have any ideas immediately about what he thinks should be done with the hospital building. His co-worker, Meagan Dare, tattooing an intricate chest piece nearby, said it should be a homeless shelter. Another man there said he'd like it to be an orphanage.
When told it could be a small business incubator, Mayes said, "That would be awesome." He liked the idea of it being a retirement village, too. Mayes said he and other business owners have been trying to get the city to do more with this part of town for the last 15 or 20 years.
"Honestly, anything they can bring this direction recreationally, or the arts, or bar hopping or something like that that'd be pretty sick," he said.
Adding to her homeless shelter idea, Dare said the building could be repurposed as a crisis center for women and children " a resource for the public that could better people's lives," she said. Mental health is a big issue in the United States, too, she said, and it would be good to have a place people could go to get judgement-free mental health care.
"Especially since it used to be a hospital, it'd be continuing that legacy of helping," Dare said.
Contact Andrew Wilkins at email@example.com or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @tweetatwilkins.