The Sitka Assembly is not quite ready to sell the former Sitka Community Hospital building — not yet, anyway. During a review on Tuesday night (4-13-21) of some draft language to solicit proposals, some assembly members hesitated because no starting price was listed, and others still weren’t convinced that leasing the building wasn’t the better option.
The assembly signaled interest in selling the city-owned building and land after SEARHC expressed interest in purchasing the property last fall.
Before the property can go out to bid, however, the Sitka assembly has to finalize and approve an “RFP,” or Request for Proposals. But some assembly members noted some key information that was still missing from the document — a property value appraisal. Member Thor Christianson said without that, they were putting the cart before the horse.
“Part of the reason I want that assessment, is that we have to have a minimum bid. When I went through that RFP I didn’t see that,” he said. “Almost every comment I’ve heard, be it sell it or not sell it, has been ‘We can’t give it away.’ We have to get something approaching market value for it or I don’t think we should sell it.”
Last month the assembly held two town halls to hear community feedback on the possible property sale. Most residents who attended the meetings in person voiced opposition to a sale. But the majority of online respondents were in favor of a sale.
During public comment, former assembly member Richard Wein, a medical doctor who previously worked at both SEARHC and Sitka Community Hospital said he felt the document was clearly steering toward a sale to SEARHC. But he continued to advocate for a lease instead of a sale.
“Even if somebody offered us $20 million for the hospital which would be great for another purpose, I wouldn’t want it! The best purpose is SEARHC. If you look at the RFP, it is totally written for SEARHC,” he said. “The quickest and best thing to do is to just go and decide what is the lease price in the lease deal, and you can eliminate all of this angst and nonsense, and we would have a revenue stream.”
Member Rebecca Himschoot said she still preferred a lease over an outright sale of the building and property. And Member Valorie Nelson said she still wanted to put a possible property sale to a public vote, even though it would be non-binding.
“I think we make the public feel like they’re more involved or part of the process if we at least give an advisory vote,” she said. “And if that advisory vote shows 50/50, then guess what, guys, you can do whatever you want. Thanks.”
Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz said his goal wasn’t to approve the RFP right away, but to determine next steps.
“If we go forward past this step tonight, we’re not approving the RFP for submittal to the public. We’re simply saying that what we see within it that we do like. Also tonight doesn’t preclude any two assembly members from presenting an ordinance to put this to a public vote,” he said.
Eisenbeisz also noted that the document included language to cancel, reissue or postpone the RFP at any time and the assembly would not be required to approve a bid it deemed unacceptable.
The assembly put a pin in the RFP for the time being, and directed the city administrator to schedule a special meeting or a work session to further develop the document.