Vineland plans to turn old hospital into senior housing

VINELAND — Hope for a medical school at the former Newcomb Hospital may be dim, but another project for the site could get underway this year.

And Vineland is helping to facilitate its development.

City Council has approved a $30,000 contract with a Florida firm to “assist in the implementation and financing” of more than 100 assisted- and independent-living units. Community Initiative Development Corp. will work with the Newcomb Medical Alliance in seeking funding.

Developer Tony Danza, of the Danza Group, told the Planning Board when it approved the project in December that the enterprise will cost an estimated $30 million.

The Danza Group already used $5 million of a $6 million Urban Enterprise Zone loan to buy the Newcomb Hospital property. The other $1 million was used to try and lure the medical school to the site. The entire loan becomes payable July 1, the five-year anniversary of when the Danza Group went to settlement on the site.

Danza and city Economic Development Director Sandra Forosisky could not be reached for comment.

Newcomb Hospital was for decades Cumberland County’s major medical facility. The hospital, located on land bordered by Chestnut, State, Almond and Howard streets, closed in August 2004.

While parts of the building are used by Inspira Health Network and CompleteCare Health Network, the bulk of the facility is vacant.

The city hoped to use the hospital site as the location of a medical school, a proposal essentially dashed by the reorganization of the state’s higher education system.

Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation in August 2012 that gutted the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Major portions of UMDNJ were given to Rowan and Rutgers universities.

City officials and developers hoped that UMDNJ would operate the medical school. The enterprise, they said, would have helped provide New Jersey with needed doctors and bolster the downtown with students and medical school staff looking for places to shop, eat and live.

Now, under the development project approved in December, plans includes a 69-unit assisted-living facility to be housed in a more than 46,000-square-foot building. Another new building of more than 60,000 square feet would be used as a 62-unit independent-living facility.

The Planning Board’s approval also requires developers to preserve part of the façade of the hospital’s original 1922 building.

Danza told the Planning Board the work could begin in about three months.