The former Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center has stood vacant in the heart of Old Fourth Ward for nearly a year. Now two Atlanta City Council members are pitching vastly different ideas for what they think would be the best use for the property.
When Wellstar closed the 460-bed hospital last November, it was a shock to city officials. Mayor Andre Dickens and the council immediately put a moratorium on any new development on the hospital’s 25-acre site, considered prime real estate. The moratorium was extended several times. The latest moratorium expires in October.
Councilmember Keisha Sean Waites’ wants the city to acquire the shuttered hospital site for an equity center. The center, to be named for U.S. Rep. John Lewis, would provide resources such as mental health services, job training and transitional housing for homeless people.
However, the city’s Community Development and Human Services Committee voted at its Sept. 12 meeting to hold her resolution. Waites said she would continue to push for the legislation.
“Given the crisis with respect to affordable housing, the urgent need for transitional housing for those that are unsheltered, and quality of life issues throughout our city, the feeling is that there is a need for an equity center,” Waites told Rough Draft.
She said AMC’s central location is ideal for building a state-of-the-art facility that would address the unmet needs of underserved communities, much like the hospital did for nearly a century.
Her idea is for the city to ask Wellstar to donate the property and become a community partner. Paying for demolition and construction would come from corporate and philanthropic dollars as well as state and federal grants, she said.
AMC was also one of only two Level 1 trauma centers in the city, leaving Grady Hospital as the sole trauma center in the city.
“So this is also a life or death issue in terms of Homeland Security,” Waites said.
She also said she believes allowing private development of the AMC property would further exasperate the city’s affordable housing crisis.
“The cost of building is exorbitant,” Waites said. “We have a massive unsheltered population here in the city of Atlanta.
“So [private development] is going to end up being luxury high rises, because that’s the only people who will be able to afford to live there,” she said. “We have those all over the city of Atlanta right now. That is not what we need.”
Councilmember Amir Farokhi, however, believes it’s time to let developers buy the land. He said he would vote against a moratorium if the mayor asks for it to be extended next month. The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“The neighborhood and city deserve something there, which is high demand property, and that’s not exclusive to having health care access,” he told Rough Draft.
“It’s a massive footprint with many parcels and we’re going to be better served with that evolving into housing or retail or office with health care, rather than having it be a dead zone.”
Massive development is already advancing at the edges of the AMC property. Atlanta Business Chronicle recently reported a $122 million development including hundreds of apartments, a grocery store and retail is planned near the corner of Boulevard and Highland Avenue at the southern edge of Wellstar’s footprint.
Farokhi said Old Fourth Ward residents and businesses suffered through inactivity on the Civic Center site for over a decade and he didn’t want to see that happen with the AMC site.
“It has such opportunity and demand and we should take advantage of it,” he said. “That can include, and probably should include, some level of health care access, but we’re not going to see the entire site developed for healthcare and we need to recognize that.”
The non-profit Wellstar, one of the state’s largest health systems, said it was forced to close AMC due to heavy revenue losses. The announcement shocked city and county leaders who said the 120-year-old hospital played a key role in Atlanta’s healthcare ecosystem because it served some of Atlanta’s most vulnerable people, including low-income and Black residents.
Wellstar officials were recently blasted by members of the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee for its decision to close Atlanta Medical Center and a smaller hospital in East Point late last year before announcing its plans to invest $800 million to take over Augusta University’s hospitals. The takeover gained legal approval Aug. 30.
Wellstar spokesperson Matthew O’Connor said in a Sept. 13 email the healthcare system was “committed to a thoughtful process to determine the best use for the future of these sites.”
“We continue to talk with members of the community and evaluate potential solutions. We do not currently have plans for the sites and we are hopeful for a solution that benefits the community.“
This story has been updated with more information about Waites’ proposal for the AMC property.