The province says it's already negotiating with someone to buy the old West 5th Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital land.

So it may already be too late for Hamilton city council, despite councillors voting Wednesday to look at buying the prime Mountain brow property.

'IO is currently negotiating a sale for the property with an eligible organization.' - Ian McConachie, Infrastructure Ontario spokesperson

The city has bandied about numerous uses for the 12 hectares (28.77 acres) of land, including student housing for Mohawk College and the anchor for a new gondola going to the lower city.

But on Thursday, IO said it asked non-profits and other levels of government on March 9, 2015 if they wanted the land. Such offers typically close after 30 days.

Now IO is negotiating with an agency to buy the land, spokesperson Ian McConachie said in an email. 

'The city was our hope.' - Patricia Saunders, Century Manor Task Force 2

"IO is currently negotiating a sale for the property with an eligible organization which also expressed interest in the property during the circulation process," he said. "If negotiations with this entity are not successful, the property will be targeted for sale on the open market."

McConachie wouldn't say if that organization is the City of Hamilton. But judging from a city council vote on Wednesday, it doesn't appear to be.

City council passed a motion, moved by Coun. Terry Whitehead of Ward 8, to look into the feasibility, process and budget of trying to buy those lands.

'Thought we were going to take advantage a year ago'

The idea, Whitehead said Wednesday, is to buy the land and develop a secondary plan for it, similar to what the city did in the west harbour. He wants "the community to tell me what they want to see there." 

Whitehead said he thought the city was already formally negotiating with the province. Then he learned that it wasn't.

"I thought we were going to take advantage a year ago," he said.

Mohawk College expressed interest in the site, but spokesperson Jay Robb says the college is not the party negotiating with the province.

The land includes Century Manor, an 1884 heritage building that's one of the few still left standing from the former Hamilton Asylum for the Insane. It's one of the oldest buildings in the city.

A group called Century Manor Task Force 2 is anxiously hoping the city will buy and restore the mansion.

'The city was our hope'

The group wrote to city council this summer encouraging it to do what it could to buy the building. Council merely received the letter.

Pat Saunders, a member of the task force, said she's frustrated and disappointed to hear another agency could get the property.

"What I've been fearing all along which is that the city is going to lose out," she said. "The city was our hope."

McConachie said surplus provincial lands are listed on IO's realty circulation publisher website. An interested agency clicks a link on the website to express interest, then fills out a form that goes to IO's sales division. Postal mail letters and emails are also accepted.

CBC Hamilton is pursuing comment from the city on whether that happened.

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC