Bond commission vote may spur Ala. hospital sale

AP News
Posted: Dec 23, 2009 9:55 AM

A state commission headed by the governor took action Tuesday that could clear the way for the state to sell the almost 150-year-old Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa to the University of Alabama.

The Amendment 666 Bond Commission voted Tuesday to authorize the state Finance Department to sell up to $139 million in state bonds for economic development. The commission is headed by Gov. Bob Riley and includes acting Finance Director Bill Newton, Revenue Commissioner Tim Russell, state Sen. Roger Bedford of Russellville and state Rep. John Knight of Montgomery.

Commission members did not say what projects might be funded with the money. But Riley later said that part of the funds could be used to help fund the building of a new mental hospital if the Bryce property is sold.

Riley said negotiations were continuing between mental health officials, the University of Alabama and others concerning the possible sale of Bryce.

"No decisions have been made at the present time," Riley said.

The Riley administration is discussing selling the Bryce property to the University of Alabama for future expansions. Kathy Sawyer, a former mental health commissioner hired as a consultant to Riley, has said the cost to replace Bryce and its services is about $84 million.

The university has made an offer of $60 million for the property. Tuscaloosa businessman Stan Pate has also said he represents a group that is interested in buying the nearly 200 acres that is located near the Black Warrior River, adjacent to the university.

Riley would not say how much the state would need to build a new mental hospital, but said the bond issue would include enough money to use for other projects.

Bedford suggested one deserving project would be to build a new science building at the University of North Alabama in Florence.

Riley has discussed the possibility of moving Bryce's services to the former Carraway Hospital in Birmingham.

Randy Brinson, a Montgomery physician and chairman of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, said the state should consider other options than rebuilding Bryce or moving the hospital's more than 400 patients and services to a facility like Carraway. He said he favors a plan where the state would build several smaller regional hospitals around the state.

Brinson also said this is not a good time to sell prime real estate like the Bryce property with the currently depressed real estate market.