State mental health officials tour former Carraway

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Several state mental health officials were in Birmingham touring the former Carraway Hospital property.

They spent time looking at the hospital's former psychiatric floors as well as the kitchen area, office space, a possible retail area, and hotel rooms that could be converted into treatment space.

Governor Bob Riley is asking the Mental Health Advisory Board of Trustees to consider moving the state mental hospital from Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa to the Carraway site.

One of the reason's Governor Riley is asking state officials to consider this move is because he says Birmingham is offering a tax incentive to attract the jobs to the city.

"I think the hospital has some wonderful assets and it looks very good for being closed for a year, so they've maintained the property very well," said Board Member Zelia Baugh of Birmingham.

"I was amazed at what great shape it's in for having been abandoned for a year," said Board Member Sandra Moon from Huntsville. "There's certainly ample opportunity, it's a big big facility. I'd like to see somebody who knows hospital operations and property come in and take a look at it, what it means for the neighborhood."

Governor Riley has indicated he would like the board to consider accepting a $50 million offer from the University of Alabama to buy the existing Bryce Hospital property, and relocate that facility to Carraway.

But Tuscaloosa officials have already filed a lawsuit seeking to stop Bryce from moving.

"I can understand Tuscaloosa's concerned, but at the same time, I also wish they would put together a package along with the university so they could meet with the board and review everything, and the city of Birmingham is certainly doing that," Baugh said.

"Certainly you'd rather deal with folks who want you on board then folks who are putting up obstacles, and right now that's sort of the feeling I get in Tuscaloosa," Moon said. "It's almost a feeling of entitlement that Bryce needs to stay there. I can appreciate that, I understand they want to keep the jobs there. But it's always easier to work with a willing partner then one who's sort of dragging their feet."

The state doesn't have a cost estimate yet on what it would take to buy and renovate the building, and board members today said they don't need all of this space, but believe the extra floors could be leased to bring in more revenue to the department during cash-strapped budget times.

State Representative John Rogers is planning a rally next Friday as a show of local support for the idea of moving the hospital to Carraway.