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IHC may offer Rx for smelter site: a hospital

Intermountain Health Care is considering the construction of a major hospital at the old American Smelter and Refining Co. site, city and IHC officials have confirmed.

The new hospital, which may be built on about 40 acres west of State Street between 5300 South and Little Cottonwood Creek, would replace Cottonwood Hospital at 5770 S. 300 East.But that's only part of a much bigger picture: The hospital also would anchor a 60-acre commercial development now being planned by the Boyer Co., a council member said.

City officials say they expect the development will include nationally prominent retail stores, major restaurants, a number of shops, a light-rail station and possibly a massive 25-screen movie complex.

And because preliminary plans advanced by IHC officials do not include much open space, there are initial discussions about building a "sky bridge" over State Street that would link the hospital with Murray Park.

IHC spokesman Jess Gomez said Wednesday the 5300 South site is "one of several options that are being considered as a site to replace Cottonwood Hospital."

"However, no final decisions have been made so it's preliminary to release very much information at this point because we are still in the early stages of looking at all the options," he said.

Gomez indicated IHC officials have been seriously evaluating alternative hospital sites for the past two years.

"We're looking for an area that gives us more central access from throughout the valley," he said. "Cottonwood Hospital is located in a residential area and is nearly 30 years old.

"We will pick the site that best meets the needs of the communities we serve in the foreseeable future," Gomez added.

Mayor Dan Snarr said the talks with both IHC and Boyer hinge on the city obtaining Environmental Protection Agency approval of its plans for cleaning up the old smelter site.

"The site must be remediated to the satisfaction of all parties and the contamination removed so it can be developed," he said.

In an unusual arrangement with the EPA, Murray is the "lead agency" for the cleanup and will supervise mitigation work at the site over the next 18 months.

Snarr's executive assistant, Darcy Pignanelli, said the next two to three weeks are critical to the city because of the number of documents that need to be approved.

Chief among those is a "consent decree" the EPA must accept before work can begin. Pignanelli said city staff expects to send off that package of documents for federal approval no later than the latter part of March.

Once that's signed, she said, the city hopes to begin the cleanup by mid-summer regardless of what IHC and Boyer decide.

"It will probably take a full year to remediate the site," Pignanelli added, depending on the severity of next winter's weather.

Another key decision to be made is the fate of the two smokestacks that have been Murray's premier landmarks over the past century.

City officials have received an engineering study on the smokestacks but have not made a decision whether they should be torn down or seismically reinforced and restored at considerable cost.

Confirmation of IHC's plans should stem a tide of rumors that has been circulating among hospital staff for more than a week.

City officials have remained mum about the project to help developers keep land costs down. But reports also have been circulating in the Legislature, where one project meeting was held last week in a lawmaker's office.

"This is probably the worst-kept secret in the state," mused Councilman John Ward.

Snarr said tours of Cottonwood Hospital have convinced him the existing facility is overcrowded and hopelessly landlocked.

"It's no secret they need more space over there," the mayor said. "IHC has a strong interest (in the site), and I think they would like to stay in Murray because of the geographic location."

If IHC decides on the Murray site, Pignanelli said, it will ensure the future of a plan to develop what may be the premier piece of prime commercial property in the county.

"This can be the biggest thing to happen to Murray since the Fashion Place Mall," she said.

City Councilman John Rush, who has been part of the preliminary discussions, believes that may be understating things a bit.

"Any other project in Murray will be dwarfed in comparison with this," he said. "It may be one of the biggest projects in the state.

"Boyer is putting together a very attractive project with world-class restaurants, shops and retail facilities," Rush noted. "We're talking about major league businesses. Real heavyweights.

"I think the people of Murray will be really surprised to see what's planned there," he added.

Rush said he believes IHC is "on board" and will bring a significant amount of community credibility and trust to the project.

"One thing we must work out is the question of open space," he said, describing that as a "formidable issue" among his constituents.

"I'm very adamant that, in the absence of a significant amount of open space, we work out arrangements to build a sky bridge between the hospital and the park," Rush added. "It will tie together two first-class facilities."