Exclusive: Atlanta mayor halts AMC site redevelopment prior to hospital closure

A Grady Hospital ambulance pulls into the emergency entrance of Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center on Monday, September 12, 2022. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com).

Credit: Natrice Miller

Credit: Natrice Miller

A Grady Hospital ambulance pulls into the emergency entrance of Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center on Monday, September 12, 2022. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com).

Nearly a month after the announcement that one of metro Atlanta’s two Level I trauma centers will close on Nov. 1, Mayor Andre Dickens on Monday issued an executive order to prohibit redevelopment of the Atlanta Medical Center site.

Dickens has reiterated for weeks that the closure of the 460-bed hospital will most adversely impact low-income populations in metro Atlanta. On Monday, he said in a statement that he’s enacting a moratorium to give the city time to review the impact of the hospital’s closure and possible rezoning.

“The Atlanta Medical Center campus is a vital cornerstone of the Old Fourth Ward community,” Dickens said in a statement. “The city of Atlanta has an essential interest in ensuring that any reuse or redevelopment of this property is in line with the community’s needs and master plan.

Dickens is ordering the City Planning department to refuse any applications for rezoning, building permits, land disturbances, special administrative permits, subdivisions, replatting or lot consolidations for 15 parcels of land that are part of the AMC footprint, according to a copy of the order obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Council President Doug Shipman supports the order and said it “buys us time to try to find a way in which we can have some kind of health care institution there instead of it being potentially used for other purposes.”

“And I would expect that the city council will in fact extend this at our next council meeting,” Shipman said.

The executive order, which doesn’t apply to permits for emergency repairs, expires at the Atlanta City Council meeting on Oct. 3. However, the mayor’s office said Dickens plans to work with City Council to pass legislation extending the moratorium.

The Atlanta Medical Center is a 120-year-old institution located in the heart of the city on a 25-acre site. In 2008, the city designated the hospital as an essential infrastructure for the community’s Old Fourth Ward Master Plan.

According to the city, the land falls under several zoning regulations, such as the C-1 Community Business District, C-2 Commercial Service District, and the C-4 Central Area Commercial Residential District. Some of the properties also fall within the Beltline Overlay District and Beltline Affordable Workforce Housing District.

Dickens has previously said that Atlanta wants to prioritize the continued use of the site — in whole or in part — for health care services. The AMC also houses the Atlanta Police Department’s Zone 6 Crime Suppression Precinct, so Dickens wants to maintain that public safety infrastructure at the site as well.

Additionally, Dickens has urged the Wellstar Health System to immediately share its transition plans for current patients and medical staff. He also wants the health system to disclose its plans for those who are newly admitted between now and their closure date to prevent gaps in care.

City Councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari said in a statement that the mayor’s moratorium signifies the start of the city’s fight to preserve health care services in the community.

“Mayor Dickens understands the irreparable harm that the closure of this hospital would have on the City of Atlanta, and I am happy to partner with him in any way to keep this world-class healthcare provider open for years to come,” Bakhtiari said.

Wellstar’s announcement last month led to immediate criticism and worry from other local officials, including Councilman Amir Farokhi, who represents the Old Fourth Ward.

On Monday, Farokhi told the AJC that he appreciates the mayor’s leadership because the AMC properties serve a vital public health role for the neighborhood and the region. Farokhi said it’s important to pause to ensure the best land use and best health care access occurs on the property in the future.