The Herald News, Wednesday, December 28, 2016 – Page A1

By Jo C. Goode

Fall River – Mayor Jasiel Correia II said he’s identified several buildings located around Government Center, both public and privately owned, that are vital to the revitalization of downtown, including the controversial purchase of the vacant building at 38 Third Street slated as the site for a new city employee health clinic.

In addition to the Third Street property, Correia said the city-owned Bedford Street police, the former Bank Street Armory and the former Durfee Tech building are also on his radar. The Durfee Tech building is privately owned, though there will likely be an announcement soon of new ownership after the Redevelopment Authority took the building back.

The armory was shut down after city building inspectors deemed it structurally unsafe. And the police station has been empty for years.

Correia said he sees redevelopment of the downtown and various buildings as the economic engine the city needs, comparing it to a train engine.

“It has to be activated, and you have to feed it,” Correia said.

Since taking office in January, Correia has been working to sell the Bedford Street police station, an goal that has proved elusive for a number of administrations. Still, Correia said he continues to pursue developers who can develop the property.

“When I interfere, it’s more marketing and pushing it into the private sector,” Correia said, who earlier had hired a real estate marketing firm.

The $20,000 contract with the company failed to create any sales of city-owned property.

The city’s Insurance Advisory Committee and the administration have been working on the concept of a wellness center for city employees, their families and some services for retirees for more than a year and plan on entering into an agreement with the Tennessee-based CareHere to manage the clinic.

The Third Street building, located across from Government Center, has been empty for years and has been for sale since 2010. The administration wants to purchase the structure built in 1930 for $240,000.

“When we addressed it (Third Street), it was an opportunity to take a building that has not moved on the market, that has been underutilized for more than a decade, that looks deplorable and leverage it with other funds,” Correia said.

Those funds are $1.5 million in mitigation money controlled by the Insurance Advisory Committee and paid out by the city after municipal workers reached an agreement when their health insurance plans were changed.

“They have to use the money for cost reductions, and this is the way to do it,” Correia said.

The administration claims that operating a clinic for city employees could save $1 million annually. However, members of the City Council, who must approve the sale of the building, are not convinced it is a fiscally responsible move. Among their concerns are a lack of information about the condition of the Third Street property and how much renovations will cost. Councilors also felt the administration has failed to provide real proof the initiative would result in savings in health insurance costs.

In a 5-3 vote, the council sent the matter to the Committee on Real Estate.

City Councilor Richard Cabeceiras, the chairman of the real estate committee, said without additional information regarding the Third Street property, he won’t call a meeting.

“I’ll only call one if there is new information. If there isn’t, there is no point to meet,” Cabeceiras said.

He questioned bringing any more buildings into the city property portfolio.

“We have buildings like the armory, the veteran’s building and various schools that we already have a hard time maintaining,” Cabeceiras said.