The patient has been comatose for eight years with no signs of improvement, so state officials are finally calling in a specialist. In this case, however, the ailing party is the former Lakeville State Hospital, and the professional attention will come not from a physician, but from an entity known for resuscitating failing real estate.

MassDevelopment, the state’s real estate and economic development agency, will work with the Division of Capital Asset Management and Lakeville officials to see whether the abandoned property can be revitalized. The 72-acre parcel has sat empty since then-Gov. William Weld closed nine such facilities in 1992 as part of an aggressive cost-cutting measure.

To date, several requests for proposals have failed to produce any serious offers for Lakeville, save for one out-of-state group which tied up the property for several years in the mid-1990s before backing out with no improvements made to the complex. An RFP in June yielded no takers, prompting state Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, to approach MassDevelopment Executive Director Michael P. Hogan and seek his assistance.

“I’ve tended to think he’s got a good performance record at MassDevelopment,” Pacheco said of Hogan. “He’s a very can-do individual, and I think MassDevelopment has a lot more flexibility and resources available than [DCAM] has to get this thing moving forward.”

DCAM, for example, does not have the funds to broadly market such properties, Pacheco said, adding that he believes MassDevelopment also has a greater stable of business contacts which might generate interest in the property. Hogan agreed that his agency is in constant contact with the private sector, estimating that the organization deals annually with 250 to 300 companies seeking expansion in the state. MassDevelopment also has access to architects, engineers and other professionals who can assess a parcel and identify its strong points and problems.

“This is what we’re set up for,” said Hogan. “We’re in a good position to come in and jumpstart projects just like this.”

MassDevelopment certainly has a lengthy track record in doing large-scale projects, including the former Fort Devens in Central Massachusetts. In three years, the agency has wooed more than 80 companies to that 4,400-acre campus, an effort that has yielded 8 million square feet of space and more than 4,000 jobs. The company currently is working on 25 projects statewide encompassing more than 7,000 acres, including the revitalization of the Northampton State Hospital in Western Massachusetts.

DCAM spokesman Kevin Flanigan said last week that his agency is still assessing the Lakeville situation. At present, the hospital is not being marketed, he said, and there is no set timetable for issuing another RFP.

“As for the next step at Lakeville, that’s not 100 percent clear at this point,” Flanigan said. “We are going to work with MassDevelopment to determine the best approach for our two agencies.”

Flanigan said DCAM believes there were several factors causing the project to languish thus far. Besides the three-year game Tennessee-based Life Care played with the state in the mid-1990s, Flanigan said the enabling legislation needed to be changed in 1998 to allow for an outright sale of the property. That legislation did not include funds to prepare the complex for sale, however. There was no money to assess the environmental conditions or what shape the buildings were in, Flanigan noted.

Another problem, according to Flanigan, is that residents resisted a residential component except for elderly or assisted living units. “That was a major reason” developers were not interested, he said.

‘Plan in Place’
Hogan said he believes the bigger stumbling block has been the uncertainty faced by potential buyers. “It’s really a question of how much is it going to cost to do the environmental remediation and how much can you use the existing buildings for,” said Hogan, whose agency hopes to do a complete assessment of those issues by year’s end.

MassDevelopment will also work with the local community, reviewing the re-use plan put in place by the state and town officials. Overall, Hogan said he believes it is a workable blueprint, although his agency may try to do the build-out in phases, and perhaps work as master developer of the site. It could provide cleanup and demolition monies, he said, hopefully funds that would be repaid when a sale occurred.

“This is a project that is not a slam-dunk because of the age and condition of the buildings, but it can be done,” Hogan said. “We’ve got a plan in place, we are moving forward, and we hope to see more progress during the coming year.”

For his part, Pacheco criticized the Weld and Cellucci administrations for closing the hospital in the first place, and then not doing enough to steer the redevelopment along. Although he maintains that DCAM has tried to do its part, Pacheco said inadequate resources and delays in appointing a permanent DCAM commissioner following the departure of Lark Jurev Palermo also contributed to the delays.

From a real estate perspective, both Hogan and Pacheco expressed optimism that Lakeville will get a second chance. Pacheco noted that the Old Colony Railway has a new branch across the street from the property, while Lakeville is also located near Interstate 495.

“That entire parcel is certainly prime for re-use,” Pacheco said. “There’s a whole range of opportunities that could be done fairly easily there.” The re-use plan does allow a broad scope of functions, including office space, light industrial and manufacturing. Only retail and traditional residential are excluded. Hogan said there may be an opportunity to work with officials at the nearby Myles Standish Industrial Park as well.

Lakeville is just one of several former hospital sites across the state that are being converted for private use. Although there have been some successes, most notably at the former Cushing Hospital in Framingham, other sites in such communities as Danvers, Belchertown and Rutland are still wending their way through the process. According to Hogan, however, progress is being made, adding that he believes the administration has done its part to encourage redevelopment, but not at the expense of the local residents.

“The governor, and Gov. Weld before before him, have been very committed to the community planning process,” Hogan said. “Has it gone slower than people would like? Absolutely, but they have tried to balance the needs and concerns of the community, and that is something that can take time.”

Flanigan agreed, especially since residents can often have conflicting desires amongst themselves, including those who would prefer to see nothing happen at a given property. Despite those differences, Flanigan insisted that the bulk of the surplus hospitals are moving forward with their re-use efforts. Residents of 225 units of assisted living housing began moving onto the former Cushing grounds in January, with a total of 420 units planned for that site. The remaining 96 acres has been deeded to the town as open space.

Northampton, meanwhile, “is pretty far along,” said Flanigan, with Community Builders about to take control of 126 acres for residential uses. The agency is also upbeat about Danvers State Hospital, with an RFP expected to be issued within a few weeks for that 500-acre complex. DCAM has also spent $12 million to demolish 25 buildings at the former Boston State Hospital in Mattapan, which will be converted to a mix of lab space, affordable housing and a 62-acre nature center run by the Audubon Society.

Officials Seek to Resuscitate Ailing Lakeville State Hospital

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 5 min