New legislation could bring changes to Central State | News
It was once the largest mental health institution in the state.
"There were hundreds and hundreds of people walking through there every day," Baldwin County Commissioner Henry Craig said.
But today, much of the 2,000-acre property at Central State Hospital is abandoned, rusted through and boarded up.
"Letting them sit and languish is not a good option. We need to put them back to work," Mike Couch, executive director of the Central State Hospital Re-Development Authority, said.
Two bills before this year's General Assembly, House Bill 495 and the State Property Omnibus Bill, could do just that.
Local officials say if passed, the bills will streamline the process of filling empty buildings there and bring activity back to the state-owned campus.
"A large portion of our county belongs to the state doesn't produce jobs, doesn't produce taxes for our community. That's why we need to re-develop these facilities," Craig said.
Currently, the Central State Hospital Re-Development Authority has to ask the Assembly each year to approve property transfers at Central State.
If approved, this year's Omnibus Bill would declare unused buildings at the hospital as "surplus" property.
That means the land can be used for other purposes.
House Bill 495 then essentially cuts out the state as a middle man. It allows the Re-Development Authority to work directly with the State Properties Commission, not the General Assembly, for any properties valued under $500,000.
"If a company comes to me and says, 'We're interested in this property,' we don't have to wait a full cycle for the next legislative session," Couch said.
Couch says a faster, more efficient way of bringing tenants and new businesses into those empty buildings is key to bringing economic growth back to the area.
"It's always been an economic driver. We've got to put it back to work. This is over 2,000 acres that if we do our job right, becomes a contributing factor to bringing Milledgeville and Baldwin County's economy back," Couch said.
Couch said the House Committee is expected to hear the bills next Wednesday and will vote on whether to send them to the floor of the General Assembly, which ends in mid-March.