Tennova doesn’t deserve $16 million tax break  

Betty BeanKnox Scene

Anybody who thinks Tennova deserves a $16 million tax break for selling St. Mary’s to the city for $1 as a place to relocate police and fire departments should talk to my online friend Omar the Nigerian prince. He seems nice.

Just like the Tennova guys who peddled snake oil in North Knoxville about their intentions for going on seven years before abruptly announcing that they were closing down St. Mary’s. Dec. 28 was like a death in the family, and Dec. 31 was literally death for the young man who was dumped on the doorstep of the shuttered emergency room with a fatal gunshot wound. St. Mary’s closing is having a ripple effect on other area hospitals.

We’ve taken the fate of the old hospital personally around here. And why shouldn’t we? Besides being a major anchor of our neighborhood and employer to our friends and neighbors, St. Mary’s is where many of us were born. So were most of our children. We went there when we needed stitches or broke our arms, got the flu or needed our appendix taken out. The jam-packed emergency room sometimes looked eerily like the Star Wars cantina, and the in-patient psychiatry unit was the only such treatment center in town.

While the city’s plan to take over the medical complex recently abandoned by Tennova has been gratefully received for its admirable components – like the newly conceived plan to partner with Knox Heritage to preserve the historic, beautiful original building and the overall prospect of preventing the hospital’s carcass from turning into a haven for vagrants – the notion of rewarding the bad behavior of the for-profit hospital owners is repugnant to many of us.

City Council member Lauren Rider, who lives a few blocks south of St. Mary’s, has picked up on the mixed feelings being generated by the deal that was formally introduced to the public at a City Council workshop Thursday night.

“It’s hard for the community to be heart-warmed by a tax break for a company that everybody feels has abandoned them,” she said.

The land “giveaway” proposal sounded eerily familiar (maybe identical) to one proffered to the city and county jointly and rejected by both early in Tim Burchett’s second term as county mayor.

Although city policy guru Bill Lyons, at Thursday night’s City Council workshop, presented the proposed $16 million tax break to be applied to a future medical facility on Middlebrook Pike as an encouragement to incentivize Tennova to “invest” in the city, it also sounded pretty much like the proposed PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) deal in the previous offer, which was a way to help Tennova pay off a group of doctors who had invested in the hospital years ago. The $16 million REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) payment will sweeten the deal for Tennova.

Additionally, some of those involved in the failed city/county deal, which pretty much died aborning, are skeptical of the city’s ability to bring the project in on budget and according to plan (will the fire department really get moved in?).

Others just wonder what the heck’s a Tennova and how a beloved community hospital run by the Sisters of Mercy got taken over by some New York hedge fund. Evidently, getting out from under an estimated $400,000 annual property tax burden isn’t enough for this bunch of vulture capitalists.

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