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Only Slight Chance that Gulfport VA to be Turned Over to Gulfport This Summer
Demolition Starting

by Keith Burton - GCN     2/26/07

Officials with the Veteran's Administration tell GCN that no firm date has been established to turn over the VA Hospital property to the city of Gulfport. Earlier this month, Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr told the City Council and others that the property would be turned over to Gulfport sometime this summer. The VA property  has been closed since hurricane Katrina and is adjacent to the beach highway and includes nearly 93 acres.

Officials with the VA say this week that work to removed hazardous materials as well as demolish damaged and destroyed buildings has only just begun.

"A specific date for turning the property over to Gulfport has not been established," said VA Media Relations Spokesman Edwin “Tinker” Cassell.

In December, Cassell said that the site could not be turned over to Gulfport until a hazardous materials survey had been completed and materials, such as asbestos, were removed. He also said that most of the buildings were too damaged to be reused would have to be removed, but an assessment of what could be salvaged has not been completed. So far, Cassell said that only the first phase of the hazardous materials survey had been completed and a second phase was beginning. Cassell said he could not say when the process would be finished. But there is some progress.

Cassell tells GCN that work to remove a few of the structures at the VA site began Monday, Feb. 26. A demolition contractor was seen leaving the site and some heavy equipment is now on the site.

Regarding the turnover date, Cassell says that the site may be ready for Gulfport to take over sometime later. He said he was aware of Warr's recent comments regarding the transfer, but he said if the site was turned over this summer, it would be with some restrictions.

Cassell told GCN that it will be unlikely that contracts to remove all of the debris and remove the buildings and do the environmental work can be issued and completed this summer. He mentioned that a possible mid June time frame for transferring the property will likely not be possible.

"There is some question over whether the property can be turned over before the site is cleared," Cassell said.

Congress allocated $36 million for remediation of the VA Hospital in Gulfport and for transfer of possession of the property to the City of Gulfport. The VA hospital was scheduled for closure prior to Hurricane Katrina as part of a realignment of Veterans Hospitals around the country. The closure of the Gulfport VA hospital was to be a phased-in process where the Biloxi, and other VA facilities in nearby states would take up the load. Katrina's devastating storm surge and winds accelerated the process.

Just this past week, the Gulfport City Council, on a recommendation by Mayor Warr, (photo right) adopted a resolution to contract with a "master developer" to help the city determine what to do with the property once it is in the city's hands.

On February 2, the city council and mayor, along with some residents, heard a presentation from Hancock Bank's George Schloegel, who made a presentation on some options. Schloegel, who is a member of the Gulf Coast Business Council, had been asked by the mayor to provide some guidance. The Gulf Coast Business Council is a local advocacy group whose membership is kept secret, but includes some powerful local businesses and individuals.

Schloegel told GCN in an earlier report that he paid for several trips to other cities where government property had been turned over to local governments as a way to gather information. This past September, an article published by Sun Herald-owned Journal of South Mississippi Business titled, “VA Property Could be a Plumb for Development,” quoted Hancock Bank CEO George Schloegel saying, “Developers will be salivating over it."

This month's announcement by Mayor Warr that the property will be turned over this summer is the second such  announcement. Last July Warr announced that the beachfront Gulfport VA would be turned over to the city by the federal government in December 06.

More Information:

Revealing the Invisible Government: VA Property Transfer to Gulfport Delayed, Armed Forces Retirement Home to be Rebuilt - GCN Special Report

VA's Future Taking Shape - Sun Herald

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