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Developer Offers Cure for Eyesore

Builder plans to convert the rundown former St. John's Hospital into a 230-unit affordable-housing complex for seniors in Oxnard.

October 18, 2003|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

More than 10 years after its doctors and nurses moved to a new home across town, the abandoned St. John's Hospital in downtown Oxnard might soon undergo a transformation -- from neighborhood gang hangout to grandma's place.

Developers plan to turn the rundown building on F Street and its surrounding property into an affordable-housing complex for seniors.

Los Angeles-based American Housing Construction expects to begin work on the $40-million, 230-unit project in about two months, said senior partner Albert Otero. The five-story building is to be gutted and rebuilt to include apartments, a pharmacy and common areas, Otero said.

"The neighborhood wants it done, the city wants it done and I'd like to get it done and start [receiving] rent," he said.

The news comes as a relief to residents of the city's historic Wilson neighborhood, where tidy homes and manicured lawns pose a sharp contrast to the boarded-up, graffiti-covered 10-acre property.

Since St. John's Regional Medical Center moved to Rose Avenue and Gonzales Road in 1992, neighbors have complained about the ruffians the building's darkened hallways seem to attract.

Gang members, graffiti vandals, drug users and teenagers looking for a place to party have turned the building into a sort of clubhouse, neighbors said.

Oxnard resident Steve Buratti, a teacher at Camarillo High School, said he has been told by students, "We were partying in your town this weekend," referring to the old building.

"I'm concerned for the kids, because for them it's what I call an attractive nuisance," Buratti said. "Kids just want to go in there and explore. I've personally stopped numerous types from going in there and have had to shoo kids away."

Joy Davis, who grew up in Missouri, spent summers at her grandmother's home on nearby Deodar Avenue, where she now lives. Even though the neighborhood still conveys "a small-town homey feeling," she said that the old hospital detracted from an otherwise ideal location. She said she has seen gang members wander in and has heard gunshots.

"This is a great place to live, but it's kind of gone downhill," Davis said. Her 80-year-old grandmother, Betty Payne, hopes to move into the senior complex, she said.

The property has changed ownership several times, and developers have proposed building everything from apartments and luxury housing to a retirement home. For various reasons, the plans never materialized, and neighborhood residents were left with the eyesore. Now, they say, they are optimistic, but experience has taught them not to get too excited.

"The current developers have stuck with this project longer than anyone has so far," said Bill Winter, chairman of the neighborhood council. "Up until this one particular developer, we've been sold a bill of goods and sold a lot of promises and nothing's come true. Personally, I'm counting on this company to come through."

Architects with Lauterbach & Associates in Oxnard are developing a design for the 300,000-square-foot building that would include gardens, walking paths, access ramps and stairs. The idea is to make the facility comfortable for seniors while providing an aesthetically pleasing look that will serve as the "gateway" to the city's historic neighborhood, Otero said.

American Housing, which has obtained tax-exempt government funds to help finance the project, plans to gut the 50-year-old building's interior and begin asbestos removal in the coming weeks. The building's exterior would get new windows framed in foam, decorative trimming and a new main entrance. The complex would be closed off by a 6-foot wrought-iron fence and entry gate, said managing architect Steve Geoffrion.

Tentative plans call for a pharmacy, hair salon and health care offices within the building, Otero said. The complex would include about 95 studio and 135 one- and two-bedroom apartments, with rents ranging from $400 to $1,000 a month.

The apartments would be open to all seniors, but 100 housing subsidy vouchers have been set aside for Oxnard residents, Otero said.

The company plans to rent to Oxnard seniors first, but in an area where affordable senior housing is difficult to find, Otero said he was bracing for applicants from all over Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

"Truth is, there aren't enough affordable housing units for seniors," Otero said. "We don't feel that there's any competition in terms of senior housing. At the end of the day, we expect our application list to be oversubscribed."

The complex is expected to be ready for occupancy by March 2005, Otero said.

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