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Old hospital site captures imaginations

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Roughly a decade after the Osceola Medical Center moved to its 122-acre campus south of the village center, the building that served as the hospital’s previous home sits empty at the intersection of River Street and Third Avenue. The windows are dark, many have been boarded over, paint peels from a high exterior wall and the second “e” has fallen from the lettering above the main entrance.

Concern is growing that the site has become a hazard. Last week, an Osceola resident posted a video to Facebook expressing worry that kids are going into the building and could get hurt. 

Despite its apparently blighted condition, the property has captured the imagination of more than one would-be developer. Over the years, buyers have dreamt of reinventing the 4.2-acre lot overlooking the St. Croix River — though perhaps none as seriously as Bernie Desmarais.

Representing a group of investors through LAD Properties, LLC, Desmarais has asked the Village of Osceola to rezone the property from “general commercial” to “planned unit development,” which would allow the company to build a mixed-use apartment building with street front retail space. 

Although LAD doesn’t yet own the property, Desmarais — who Sun readers might recognize as the author of the “Business on St. Croix” column — is broadcasting his plan for the future of the site.

“Our vision is to attract active adults aged 55 plus who wish to spend their golden years in Osceola,” he said, noting that Osceola offers small town charm alongside more typically urban amenities such as a walkable downtown district, medical services and an assisted living home. 

“I need a place to move to when Kay and I can no longer mow the lawn,” he said with a grin. 

In spite of the smile, he’s serious. And he’s not alone. Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development projects that by 2035, 25.2 percent of Polk County residents will be age 65 or older, up from 17.9 percent in 2015. 

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