City withdraws offer to give old General Hospital to foundation

Published 5:24 pm Wednesday, November 11, 2020

NATCHEZ — Plans to renovate the former General Hospital at 601 W. Oak St. into an assisted living facility were reversed in Tuesday’s meeting of the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

In 2018, the previous administration accepted a proposal from a Jackson nonprofit Magnolia Medical Foundation, which planned to make a “zero dollar purchase” of the facility in order to renovate it into a senior living apartment complex, officials said.

During Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting of the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen, however, officials withdrew the city’s acceptance of the Magnolia Medical Foundation’s offer, saying the foundation had not met terms of the deal.

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson cast a tie-breaking vote after aldermen were split 3-3 with Aldermen Ben Davis, Felicia Irving and Billie Joe Frazier each voting “nay” to reversing the decision to negotiate with Magnolia Medical.

Shortly after the city officials agreed to negotiate with Magnolia Medical in 2018, a group of landowners in the vicinity of the former hospital sued the city and the city won the lawsuit in the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Natchez City Attorney Bryan Callaway said Magnolia Medical did not participate in the lawsuits and still had not submitted $5,000 in “earnest money” that was required by the city’s original Request for Proposals.

“To date, I have not had any calls, any plans or any information from Magnolia Medical Foundation,” Callaway said, adding he had spoken with the former city attorney Bob Latham who said he had not been contacted by Magnolia Medical throughout the entire course of the litigation.

“If you recall, the $5,000 in earnest money was never tendered, which was part of the Request for Proposal. … They did not contribute anything in the lawsuits. It went all the way to the Supreme Court and Mr. Latham represented the city well and the city was successful. Magnolia Medical did have an interest in that litigation and chose not to participate,” Callaway said.

Callaway said the board could choose to either do nothing or sever ties with Magnolia Medical by rescinding the 2017 Request for Proposals and rescinding the previous administration’s decision to negotiate with Magnolia Medical.

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson said he recently met with representatives of the nonprofit and presented to them that “the vast majority” of citizens in the neighborhood near the hospital are opposed to the project.

Frazier said the group of landowners who opposed the project “just didn’t want progress” and that the foundation did not take action to move the project forward because it was tied up in litigation.

Irving said Magnolia Medical had not withdrawn their offer and should be given a chance to formally present their plans to the board.

“Give them that opportunity so that we can fairly make a decision,” Irving said.

Gibson broke the tie by voting “yes” to rescind the offer with aldermen Valencia Hall, Sarah Carter-Smith and Dan Dillard.

“If the neighborhood opposes something, then we have to listen to the neighborhood because I’m not the one living there. They are,” Gibson said.­­