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Historic designation being sought for former Niagara Falls hospital

NIAGARA FALLS – An empty downtown building that was a state-of-the-art hospital a century ago may soon get nursed back to health.

The former Mount St. Mary’s Hospital on Sixth Street is on track for a historic designation that would make it eligible for tax credits and other financial incentives that could boost potential redevelopment efforts.

Though it’s been empty since 2003, the brick structure grew out of a time when Niagara Falls was expanding and gaining wealth, and health care was starting to focus more on patient accommodations.

“It shows, once again, the good bones that the City of Niagara Falls has, that it can build on,” said Clinton E. Brown, whose architecture firm was commissioned to highlight the building’s historic value.

The former hospital rises above the surrounding structures, with its nine-story center tower and two five-story block sections on each side. A central corridor joins the structures together with two seven-story connectors.

It has deteriorated but can be rehabilitated, Brown said, for projects like senior housing or assisted living, or even apartments or a hotel.

The building at 515 Sixth has been recommended for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places by the state Board for Historic Preservation and will be listed on the state register.

The story of the building’s history is revealed in the 44-page application for inclusion on the national register. Jill Nowicki, historic preservation specialist for Clinton Brown Co. Architecture in Buffalo, completed the research for the submission.

There was a precursor to this sizable facility, predated by “the House on the Corner,” a 30-bed hospital established in a since-demolished private residence at Sixth Street and Ferry Avenue.

After five years operating there, construction on the new hospital began in 1912, with the facility dedicated in November 1914. The original construction cost: $400,000.

Ohio architect William P. Ginther designed it. He also designed other hospitals, churches and schools, mostly in his home state, Brown said.

The design included narrow corridors with lots of windows, characteristics that would be considered “green” today, he said.

It also incorporated music therapy into the building design, with an organ in the chapel able to be heard throughout the hospital.

The only major addition to the property came in 1948, when a three-story service building was built for $400,000.

The 114,000-square-foot interior is “largely intact and in good condition,” according to the nomination documents.

The hospital, run by the Sisters of St. Francis, was open at this site until 1966, when operations moved to Lewiston. The building then became the 104-room St. Mary’s Manor nursing home, which closed in 2003.

The property has been sold at least five times since then, according to city property records. The current owner is Dulzura Inc., a company with a Las Vegas address.

Being on the national historic register provides three financial incentives for rehabilitation, Brown said:

• State and federal tax credits equivalent to 40 percent of the rehabilitation costs.

• Allowing some different building code regulations not permitted on new buildings, which would reduce project costs.

• The availability of property tax abatements.

Without the tax credits, any rehabilitation project wouldn’t be feasible, Brown said.

“It’s more economical, it’s more equitable, more ecological to reinvest in an existing building,” he said, adding that the more the city realizes the assets it has, the more it will attract investment that will create jobs.

“We sometimes overlook what we still have that’s still good,” he said.