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Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, Plainfield: Proposed Redevelopment Plans Unveiled for the Former Hospital Complex

April 11, 2012

Tracy & Swartwout Buildings at Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center

This guest blog was written by PNJ intern Lauren Giannullo. Lauren is a graduate student at Rutgers University’s Bloustein School of Public Policy. She is studying for a master’s in City and Regional Planning with a certificate in Historic Preservation. 

After 4 1/2 years of languishing on and off the real estate market, Plainfield’s shuttered Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center (a 2011 PNJ 10 Most Endangered Historic Place) may to be targeted for redevelopment.  Citing what they consider to be unsustainable continued expenses for property maintenance at Muhlenberg, and a dearth of prospective buyers for the site during its time on the market,  owner JFK Health Systems has turned to a different concept : marketing the property as a prime location for new luxury rental housing and retail development, thanks in large part to the transportation options offered by the site’s proximity to the Plainfield train station.

The new redevelopment concept for the site, announced in March, calls for luxury rentals and retail space spread over 11 acres, with continued operation of the satellite emergency room, lab services, and dialysis clinic currently housed on the rest of the property. Initial cost estimates for demolition of the historic Muhlenberg campus have come in at more that $5 million – quite a financial hurdle for any potential buyer.  The good news is that there is no compelling reason for the historic hospital buildings to come down.  Actively used through 2007, these buildings are in good condition and offer an ideal opportunity for rehabilitation to accommodate any new use, including the  apartments or retail space outlined in the new redevelopment plan.

Muhlenberg Hospital, as it was originally known, opened at this location in Plainfield in 1903.  The core of the complex was built by the noted New York architects Tracy & Swartwout that same year; these buildings are some of the earliest examples of the firm’s work.  Over the years the hospital complex expanded, but the original Tracy & Swartwout buildings have remained largely intact.  These buildings serve as a living history of the people who worked to improve health care in New Jersey, and provide a tangible link to the community’s past.  Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center closed its doors in 2007 amid much controversy- the historic Muhlenberg buildings have remained vacant since that time.

Preservation New Jersey strongly urges recognition of the significance of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center‘s historic buildings to both the city of Plainfield and the state of New Jersey by JFK Health Systems and any prospective site developers.  In light of the dwindling number of extant historic medical complexes in the state, the importance of this site in terms of the history of health care and the medical field, and the noteworthy architects involved in the buildings’ creation, it is of critical importance that these structures be maintained and reused productively within any new redevelopment scheme.  Demolition of these buildings would be a detriment to the community and its history, not to mention a waste of money and energy on demolition and landfilling.  The historic significance of the Tracy & Swartwout buildings on the property can only serve to enhance future plans for this property: any redevelopment here will need “curb appeal” just as much as any other development. In the extant historic Muhlenberg Campus, this property has something that sets it apart- an opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind mixed use development unlike others on offer throughout the state.

The models of successful historic hospital rehabilitation  abound; there’s the former City Hospital in St. Louis, MO; the former Jersey City Medical Center, currently undergoing rehabilitation in Jersey City; and the former Eitel Hospital in Minneapolis, MN, just to name a few. These are not your everyday complexes, and Muhlenberg doesn’t have to be, either. Let’ hope JFK Health System wants Plainfield to have a successful, “stand out” redevelopment at Muhlenberg as much as we do!

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