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Hospital backer pulls out of project

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

The proposed Tri-County Hospital has hit another snag in its development, according to Chiefland staff at Monday night's regular commission meeting.

The Lend Lease company, a financial backer and construction company that signed on with Ameris Health Systems more than a year ago to help in the construction of the hospital, has pulled out of the deal, according to City Financial Coordinator Laurie Copeland.

In early February, the city was notified that it had qualified for an $877,177 state grant to fund sewer and water line extensions to the site of the proposed hospital, money Ameris representative Frank Schupp previously told the commission was necessary to get the hospital built.

But  a day or two after receiving notice of the city's award of the grant, according to Copeland, Lend Lease Vice President Curtis Cupp called to say his company would not be involved with the project. Copeland said Cupp gave no explanation why.

Copeland said Ameris does claim to have secured another financial backer, though the company will have to provide new financial information to the state by April 7 proving it has financing in order to qualify for its part in the state grant.

Schupp said in a a phone interview Tuesday that Lend Lease dropped out because it couldn't pull the financing together.

"They just had to decline on working on the project with us," he said, but, he added, there's a good chance Ameris will have another deal worked out soon. Schupp said he was not able legally to identify the organization Ameris is hoping to secure backing from.

Commissioners voted unanimously to accept the grant Monday night after Copeland reassured them that Ameris would be on the hook for the money if it defaulted during construction. The city will be partaking in a tri-party agreement between itself, Ameris and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Schupp said he was "very appreciative" of the hard work the city staff, Copeland in particular, had put into the project. And the fact that the city has been so supportive, he said, makes the project more attractive to investors. He said he thinks it's the prime reason Ameris was able to begin working on a new deal so quickly after Lend Lease pulled out.

Schupp also said the proposed hospital, which projected to employ 325 full-time workers and cost about $65 million to complete, is still on track for completion since his last update before the commission last November.

Shovels will be in the dirt by September, he said, and the hospital will be ready to open a year later.