The Marian Group ‘excited’ about potential of old Aiken County Hospital site

June 9, 2018

Louisville is widely recognized as the home of Churchill Downs and its signature horse racing event, the Kentucky Derby.

The Bluegrass State’s largest city also is the headquarters of The Marian Group, which is in a position to determine the future of the old Aiken County Hospital.

During its meeting Tuesday at the Aiken County Government Center, Aiken County Council approved an amended ordinance that paves the way for the County to sell the former hospital and the land where it is located for $1.1 million to the Kentucky firm.

After the old Aiken County Hospital closed in the mid-1970s, that property on Richland Avenue West became part of the Aiken County Government Complex. The Complex was the administrative center for the County until 2014.

While The Marian Group was named in the amended ordinance as the buyer, the deal is far from being finalized.

“All the ordinance really does is authorize us to get to the next step, which is to get the sale agreement together,” said County Council Chairman Gary Bunker. “I look forward to getting to know them (The Marian Group) better as we move towards actually negotiating a contract with them. It’s not something that is going to happen overnight.”

In telephone and email interviews on Wednesday and Thursday, Justin Brown, who is a principal of The Marian Group, provided information about the company and discussed what it might do with the old Aiken County Hospital and its land.

“We are tentatively proposing a combination of apartments and possible for-sale housing -- townhomes, that sort of thing – with a renovation of the hospital,” he said. “One possible use of the hospital would be an adaptive reuse into a hotel. Multi-family (housing) is another potential use. We stress that these plans are all tentative. We still need to do a significant amount of additional diligence. In other words, we are still very early in this process.”

Asked if stores or office buildings could be constructed there, Brown said: “We are not currently looking at retail or commercial space, but that may change if we think it makes sense. Should we decide to do any sort of commercial or retail, it would have to be complementary to the main site uses -- so not a standalone strip mall, for example.”

The amended ordinance’s language includes a condition of sale stating the old Aiken County Hospital must be “retained, renovated and repurposed in a manner that subjects it to real property taxation.”

Meeting that requirement is The Marian Group’s intent, “if it’s possible,” Brown said. “If it’s not possible, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

“You always hope to save an old building,” he continued, “and that is certainly what we’re going into this planning to do. But you never know what’s going to happen until you really physically go into an old building and figure out what the ‘environmentals’ (potential environmental hazards) look like. It’s just one of those things.”

The Marian Group began as L&J Constructors, a general contracting firm that Brown’s father, Jake Brown, founded in 1997. Then, in 2001, the elder Brown started the Marian Development Group, a real estate firm that specialized in multi-family and affordable housing development.

The establishment of several other companies followed, and in 2015, they all were brought together formally under a single business umbrella and they became known as The Marian Group.

“We have renovated four or five old schools,” Justin Brown said. “They were similar in nature to this property (in Aiken), and we turned them into apartments. We took an old textile mill and turned it into loft apartments here in Louisville, and we’ve done several others. Right now, there is an old convent that we are converting into apartments. We’ve got a great handle on repurposing historic buildings.”

As a graduate of the University of South Carolina, Brown is familiar with the Palmetto State.

“You all are blowing up down there,” he said. “There is a lot of stuff going on. We like South Carolina, we like Aiken and we like this sort of property, so we are very excited to be going through this process. We think that this site and the City of Aiken itself have a lot of potential.”

The old Aiken County Hospital was built in the 1930s, and hundreds of area residents, through petitions and other means, have expressed an interest in its preservation.

In a public hearing during County Council’s meeting Tuesday, more than 10 people spoke and said they wanted to save the old Aiken County Hospital.

Before the ordinance was amended, it named Aiken Hospital, LLC, as the buyer. The principal of that entity is Augusta real estate developer Bryan Haltermann, who wanted to turn the old Aiken County Hospital into an apartment complex with 60 loft-style units.

The offer from Aiken Hospital, LLC, was $625,000.

A number of speakers during the public hearing asked County Council to choose Haltermann instead of The Marian Group.

The panel’s vote on the ordinance after it was amended to remove Aiken Hospital, LLC, and replace it with The Marian Group was 6-3.

Bunker supported the amended ordinance and based his decision on two criteria.

One was, he said, “to award it to a developer who would preserve and revitalize ” the old Aiken County Hospital.

“And all things being equal on that front, then it (the other criterion) was the highest value to Aiken County,” Bunker continued. “Aiken County is not a charity, and we are going try to get top dollar anytime we sell our assets.”

Council Vice Chairman Andrew Siders, an outspoken proponent for saving the old Aiken County Hospital, opposed the amended ordinance.

“I thought it was a bad decision, though we did get the point across for renovation,” Siders said. “We haven’t vetted this group. We know nothing about them. Bryan Haltermann has been to the property over six times. He knows how to renovate historic property, and he is in our own backyard.”

Siders called The Marian Group “a Johnny-come-lately” that submitted its offer long after Haltermann made his bid known to County Council.

“We got this thing literally in work session right before we went on the floor (in Council Chambers),” Siders said. “We didn’t have time to discuss it. Nobody had time to even think about it or ask questions.”

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