What does Trinity’s move mean for Birmingham’s Eastside?

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Trinity Medical Center

Construction crews will soon be scurrying about Trinity Medical Center’s new building on Highway 280, preparing for the hospital to move to that location in 2016. Work on the new hospital, recently named Grandview Medical Center, comes after a four-year legal battle. It ended this spring when the Alabama Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the project from two other hospitals. While Trinity officials say the move is long-overdue, some residents of the eastside Birmingham neighborhood the hospital is vacating worry what the change means for their community.

Trinity Medical Center has been on its Montclair Road campus for almost 50 years. It’s an anchor for the area and a fixture residents aren’t happy to see move. Darrell O’Quinn, president of the neighborhood association in nearby Crestwood North, says for some the hospital is a selling point.

“I’ve heard from people who specifically located there because a hospital was there,” O’Quinn said. “They have a chronic condition or the potential for acute emergency and want to be very close to a place where they can get treatment.”

Trinity CEO Keith Granger is flattered by the neighborhood’s reaction to the hospital’s planned relocation.

“I think we are proud that our residents around us feel strongly about our facility and our history here at this site. You certainly wouldn’t want to be in a neighborhood where they didn’t appreciate what you have tried to contribute over time,” said Granger.

But it’s not just a loss of medical care that is generating concern. Trinity is a hub of jobs and economic activity too, with many medical offices and businesses clustered around it.

Dr. Scott Elledge runs a private ear, nose, and throat practice within one of Trinity’s tall medical office buildings. Elledge plans to relocate his office to Trinity’s new location. But he doesn’t think the move will hurt the immediate area.

“In fact, when you look at the referral pattern for the patients that come to this hospital, the move will actually put us closer to where the majority of patients come from,” Elledge said.

Trinity CEO Keith Granger says there are hospitals downtown that can serve patients in the surrounding neighborhoods. And the existing facilities are simply dated. The new Grandview Medical Center will still be in Birmingham, so city coffers won’t necessarily lose out.

What’s Next for the Property?

But for the eastside area of Birmingham the hospital is leaving, the big question is what happens to the Trinity site after the 2016 move. That’s what really worries Crestwood North’s Darrell O’Quinn. He says you don’t have to search far for reminders of the city’s shaky real estate market.

“The major concern is that the property doesn’t go vacant. As residents of Crestwood we are looking at the situation with Century Plaza, and then we look across town over at Carraway Hospital, and we don’t want that to happen in our community,” O’Quinn said.

Century Plaza is a nearby mall which has stood abandoned since 2009. Carraway Hospital, just north of downtown Birmingham, has sat vacant since 2008 despite several attempts at redevelopment. But Derek Waltchack, owner of the real estate firm Shannon-Waltchack, doesn’t think Trinity will end up the same way. He says there is already interest in the property but that Trinity will need help finding a buyer.

“The involvement of the city of Birmingham will be crucially important to pull anything off. They’re really going to have to come to the table and be a true partner. And I think they will, but that’s vital to make it happen,” Waltchack said.

Councilwoman Valerie Abbott is a member of a city task force charged with recommending new uses for the property. She says the task force has been on hold while the project faced a lawsuit. With the legal issues resolved work can resume. She hopes to meet with Trinity officials by the end of September to review recommendations the task force discussed two years ago. She says Trinity will be in charge of marketing, but that the city has a supporting role to play.

“Certainly getting people together, put their heads together and try to think of ways to re-use… find an adaptive re-use for the property. It’s wonderful property,” said Abbott.

Abbott says whoever buys the property will need resources to redevelop the space. She thinks a state or federal government agency would be a likely choice or possibly another medical facility. Some residents have suggested a bike trail be added to the large scenic campus. Others have raised the idea of a retirement community. Whatever happens, real estate broker Derek Waltchack doesn’t think the move will spell doom for the area.

“There’s a lot of daytime population that exists on Montclair Road outside of just the hospital, with Walmart and a lot of retail,” Waltchack said. “Even if every single person who’s on that campus today is gone tomorrow, I don’t think Montclair Road would be a ghost town.”

A comforting thought perhaps for those unsure what life after Trinity means for Birmingham’s eastside.

~Nathan Reveley, August 16, 2013