Bon Secours back on the market

The big plans announced in early January for locating a multi-faceted veterans project at the former Bon Secours Holy Family Hospital property are dead – for now at least.

The U.S. Veterans Educational Institute will launch its initiatives instead at other locations in the area, according to Chairman Dennis Butts, including the previously acquired Ramada Inn building on Plank Road and the Knights Inn-Rosewood Assisted Living Care Complex in the Johnstown area and other potentially

scattered locations.

USVEI’s plans to buy Bon Secours from UPMC Altoona fell apart because of difficulties with a title search, mold within the hospital as the result of an internal flood, an option deadline the hospital was unwilling to extend for a third time and a kind of Catch-22 created for Butts by the hospital’s refusal to extend the deadline, Butts said.

“We’ve been very patient and accommodating because we feel that any project to help our veterans is highly commendable,” said

hospital spokesman Dave Cuzzolina on Monday evening.

He explained that the hospital has been dealing with Butts for about nine months.

“At this time, however, we feel we need to put the property back on the market,” he said.

USVEI made an offer to buy the property for the previously agreed upon $2.5 million on Monday, three days after the most recent option deadline had passed, but proposed postponement of the closing – the transfer of money – until May 12.

Butts needed that time to negotiate what he hopes will be a $20-million corporate naming rights deal – with $10 million up front – to cover the purchase costs and renovations.

The hospital didn’t reject the price but reserved the right to sell the property to another bidder who has the cash ready, Butts said.

That puts Butts in a bind.

He needs the property to be available to negotiate the naming rights money, he said. But he needs the naming rights money to ensure the property’s availability.

The problem would disappear if the hospital would simply extend the option, he said.

Still, the hospital is not violating any contractual agreement in refusing to do so, Butts said.

Nevertheless, that refusal is not in the spirit of their previous dealings, he implied.

“They knew exactly what we were doing,” he said.

It’s “a shame” that the revitalization of the property and the benefits it would have provided for Altoona won’t happen, he said.

Butts remains open to the hospital’s changing it’s stance on extending the option, he said.

Butts presumably had enough time to negotiate the naming rights deal during the months since October when the option on the Bon Secours property began.

But that wouldn’t have worked, he said.

“We kept saying we were not going to close on a building we don’t have clear title to,” he said. “You can’t sell naming rights to that.”

A firm hired by USVEI actually did 110 separate title searches on the complex property and discovered that there hadn’t been a title search done since 1977, he said.

The matter wasn’t cleared up until Jan. 20, he said.

Then USVEI became aware of a mold problem, he said.

He didn’t get the certification that that problem was cleared up until Thursday, he said.

That left no time to negotiate the naming rights before expiration of the option, he said.

The 300-room Ramada – planned previously as the site of a deployment force that will be part of the USVEI complex – will serve as a dormitory and classroom site for the veterans in the educational components of the program, which will be conducted in partnership with Clarion University, Butts said.

The ballroom and other common rooms could become classrooms.

There will still be 100 rooms left over for the deployment force, which he may now create by partnering with an existing deployment group, Trident, he said.

The 165-room Johnstown-area facility, with its two restaurants and banquet facility, plus a nearby bakery, could become the site for a culinary school and construction training facility for homeless women vets, he said.

“It’s business,” Butts said. “Right now it didn’t work out. Maybe it will work out at some point.”

“We will gladly sell the property to Mr. Butts, if it is still available when he is ready to buy,” Cuzzolina said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.