Baptist admits to buying west Oxford site

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – A spokesman for Baptist Memorial Health Care acknowledged Tuesday that a firm connected to its system had bought property west of Oxford that may – or may not – become the site for a new hospital.
Baptist has been negotiating to buy the existing hospital, which it leases from the city of Oxford and Lafayette County, and replace it elsewhere in the community with a new facility likely to cost $250 million to $300 million.
Baptist has leased the hospital since 1989.
“Something happened in the last 90 days or so that we had an opportunity to get control of a site that we thought was a viable spot,” Dick Cowart, a spokesman for the Memphis-based system, said at a joint meeting of the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors and the Oxford Board of Aldermen.
Cowart noted that the property was not available to for long-term option, as other sites have been.
“In lieu of putting it under option for a particular period, a real estate affiliate of Baptist has acquired that site,” he said. “It has not been determined to be the site of the hospital. Baptist intends to consider the other sites.”
Cowart also emphasized that large real estate negotiations are often done confidentially, citing the option public boards have in conducting such talks in executive session.
“You cannot conduct those negotiations in public. Sellers won’t conduct them with you in public,” he said. “That’s the reason cities and counties don’t do it.”
Since suspicions arose that Baptist had created a corporation to buy the 107-acre property on Highway 6 West, the site has drawn criticism for being on the opposite side of Oxford from fire and police services, schools, long-term care facilities and population centers.
Several people with no direct interest in the hospital relocation attended Tuesday’s meeting, but most questions or comments were raised by supervisors, aldermen and developers.
“I’d like to understand what demographic patterns would occur over the next 50 years that would make the town square, the location of every elementary, middle and high school (city and county), the industrial park and the towns on six of those seven (highways into Oxford) … obsolete?” asked Kenny Farrell, a member of Concerned Citizens of Oxford and Lafayette County and a developer representing a prospective hospital site in the Oxford Commons.
Kenny Coleman owns a 64-acre property about 11/2 miles south of the present hospital.
“There are five long-term care facilities in Oxford … and all of them are in the location they’re in because the hospital is there,” he said. “All these people expected reasonably quick access to the hospital.”
Accessibility
Another major criticism frequently voiced is that the site is accessible only from Highway 6, which can be tied up by football traffic or the frequent wrecks at its intersection with Jackson Avenue.
“Have you ever been on Highway 6 during a home football game? Enough said,” Oxford Alderman Janice Antonow said. “I hope I don’t have a heart attack when there’s a football game. This particular site has generated a lot of concern from the citizens.”
Board of Supervisors President Lloyd Oliphant noted, “The site on the west side of town changes the entire dynamics of Oxford and Lafayette County. We request that Baptist give due consideration to that fact.”
Cowart said Baptist officials hope to have a signed agreement with both boards within 60 days, but Supervisor Mike Pickens offered the first hint that the prospect of relocating the hospital five miles west might further delay negotiations.
“I think we need to shore this up as we go forward” with the memorandum of understanding, Pickens said. “I don’t want to tell you where to put your new hospital, but I want to have an idea that where you’re going to put your hospital is going to benefit the people of this county.”
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@journalinc.com.