By Benjamin Joe
The Kaleida Health DeGraff Memorial Tower in North Tonawanda, formerly used for inpatient care, has been listed with Pyramid Brokerage Co. to attract a developer to fill the five-story building. Some of the property’s highlights, according to Pyramid, include easy access to the I-290 and its suitability for redevelopment, as well as it being ideal for multi-family residence and affordable housing.
This newest move comes after months of cutbacks at the Kaleida facility, including the transfer of inpatient residents who are now transported to Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital in Amherst, thus freeing up the tower on the corner of Tremont Street and Twin Cities Memorial Highway.
On Thursday, after DeGraff had reportedly met with the county’s economic development team Niagara County legislators Jesse Gooch, Rich Andres and Randy Bradt reached out to Jody Lomeo, president and CEO of Kaleida Health, stating their commitment to a “community engagement process that would allow the public a voice in the future use of the DeGraff tower.”
“We sent a note out to all the elected officials who have an interest or who have DeGraff in their district, saying we’re interested in meeting with them,” explained Mike Hughes, senior vice president and chief of staff for Kaleida Health in WNY. “In that sense, we’re willing to meet with entities, elected officials who have DeGraff in their district.”
Hughes was quick to assure that DeGraff would still offer services as a hospital. In the short update he sent on Jan. 1, it was announced the Wellness Center would remain open and patients would continue to have access to physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology, cardiac rehab and physician offices. It also said that the DeGraff Skilled Nursing Facility’s daily practice would not be impacted, so the 80-bed long-term care facility on the north side of the campus would still be operational. The hospital will be focused on the $8 million emergency department, opened last year in November.
“The key here is that we were only seeing four to five patients a day on the inpatient floor who were actually staying as inpatients,” Hughes said. “The majority of everybody else that’s at DeGraff are using it for outpatient services, for primary care, or the emergency department. None of that’s being changed at all; actually, some of it is being enhanced.”
In their letter, the three legislators were confident Kaleida would agree to “allow the public a voice in the future of the DeGraff tower.” It noted there were similar circumstances in the redevelopment of Millard Fillmore Gates Circle and Children’ s Hospital, and it had been proven that Kaleida was also committed to “significant community outreach efforts.”
“Each of those hospital reuse campuses were much different,” Hughes said, emphasizing DeGraff is a different animal than either of those facilities. “It really depends on the community they’re in, the state of the local economy and market. It depends on the size of the buildings, what the potential reuse could be, and things like that. … Each situation is different.
Hughes said, “Our goal is to make sure that there is a responsible reuse that fits in with the character of the community. If you look back over the last 15 years, our organization has done everything it can, everything it could to keep DeGraff open. … We’ve worked extremely hard to keep it a viable entity, based on what kind of patients we really see and what the community is really using it as a hospital for. Now, the community uses DeGraff for the emergency room, for primary care and some of our outpatient services.”
“As we said to Kaleida, we are always interested in supporting development in Niagara County,” Gooch said after signing the letter. “But we need to make sure it’s the right kind of development that fits with the character of the neighborhood and does not create any disruption to the residents who live there.”
Andres said, “We are very pleased to be a partner in making sure this parcel is put to productive use.” He noted that the surrounding neighborhood was predominantly residential and there could be a residential element in the building to “put traffic in the building.” However, he said he was open to what any developer might have in mind.
“I live right across the street,” he said. “I can see the hospital, so I’m more interested than most.”