The man whose company holds the mortgage to the former Grace Hospital site accused the city of being "hell bent on moving in and demolishing the building."
Tony Battaglia, president of Westpark Developments Inc., is questioning the city's decision to not allow his company to finish cleaning up the dilapidated property.
'If they decide to step in and demolish the building ... That would suggest to me there is some ulterior motive. — Tony Battaglia, Westpark Developments
He said his company was just days away from complying with a city-issued work order to secure and clean up the site, something owner Lou Vozza could not come close to doing by the Jan. 30 deadline.
Battaglia said his company in January stripped cleanup responsibility from Vozza and began power-of-sale proceedings against him.
Decision in council's hands
City council will now decide Monday whether to clean up and secure the property or simply demolish the old hospital.
"If the city feels they can come in with their forces and do the work quicker and more viably than we are doing, all the power to them," Battaglia said. "If they decide to step in and demolish the building, then I would question what the motivation is because the building is structurally sound. That would suggest to me there is some ulterior motive."
Whatever the decision, it seems Mayor Eddie Francis has decided the city, not Westpark Developments, will do the work.
"We were more than flexible. We were more than accommodating. We were more than reasonable. Some suggest that we were more than fair and, perhaps, we've gone and we allowed more time than we should have allowed," Francis said.Tuesday.
Battaglia can't understand the motive driving staff and council.
"I don't know if it’s political expediency driving this or what’s driving it but they seem to be hell bent on moving in and demolishing the building," Battaglia said.
Vozza out of the picture
While Vozza is technically the owner of the property, Battaglia said he approached the city in early January to inform officials his company, not Vozza, would complete the work.
He said aside from one email, the city never acknowledged his company's decision to take over the project.
'We've been working seven days a week to comply with the work order.' — Tony Battaglia, Westpark Developments
"They knew perfectly well that Vozza was not directly involved [in the cleanup]. They were told they should correspond with me and not Mr. Vozza," Battaglia said. "We’ve been working seven days a week to comply with the work order. The city knows of our intent to comply with the work order."
He said his company was close to complying with the deadline, but two factors slowed progress. The weather wasn't cooperative and the possibility of asbestos being on the property forced his workers to work by hand to limit the disturbance of asbestos.
Even Lee Anne Doyle, the city's chief building official, said Tuesday she understood weather conditions slowed the progress.
"I understand there's been some issues with that in regards to the freezing and the debris piles. These are things that we will be looking at," Doyle said.
MIllions of dollars at stake
Vozza owes the city $1.1 million in back taxes on the property, according to Battaglia. He said the city could take over the property in June if those aren't paid.
He also said the city would get paid if the property were sold before then, and he has at least two interested buyers, including one "institution."
"For them to step in at this point, after all the work we’ve done is ill-advised and a waste of taxpayers’ money," Battaglia said.
He estimated demolition to be $2 million.
"The sadder situation is they know full well I have been working with potential buyers who have some very exciting plans for the property," Battaglia said.
He said all the plans involve using the existing structure and that one is Windsor-based with "a very exciting plan."