HAMMONTON - Work on the roof, windows, and heating and air conditioning systems at the planned Kessler Medical Arts Complex is starting now that the investment group that bought the defunct hospital has all approvals needed from the town.

"They can proceed to do improvements, and are in a position to firm up several proposed tenants," said Hammonton attorney Frank G. Olivo, who represents the owner, Kessler Management LLC. "It will be nice to see the building come back, and good for the town with jobs coming in."

Kessler Management got permission from the Planning Board this month to change the use of the property from a hospital to a medical arts building. The board also granted the group a waiver of site plan approval, since the footprint of the building won't change.

The building is on the White Horse Pike at East Central Avenue, on the shore of Hammonton Lake.

Steve Kirby, managing partner for Kessler Management's holding company, Community Healthcare Associates LLC of Bloomfield, Essex County, predicted in a presentation to the Planning Board in April that the complex will provide jobs for about 200 people when fully occupied.

He said then that the company planned to recruit physicians, outpatient surgery centers, blood labs, imaging services, physical therapy and rehabilitation services, as well as behavioral health and sleep centers, as tenants. He also predicted some tenants might move in this fall, if all approvals were quickly granted.

Kirby has also said the group has a signed letter of intent from a North Jersey surgical center to open in the Kessler building, but that a more complex process of opening would prevent it from beginning operation before 2014.

Community Healthcare purchased the 94,000-square-foot former William B. Kessler Memorial Hospital for $2.6 million in October 2011 after bankruptcy court proceedings. The 130-bed hospital closed in 2009 after years of financial turmoil and a failed attempt to merge with South Jersey Healthcare.

Community Healthcare created a similar medical arts center at the 300,000-square-foot Barnert Hospital in Paterson, Passaic County. It purchased it after bankruptcy proceedings and renovated it as the Barnert Medical Arts Complex. Renovations began in 2008, and now the building is about 95 percent full, Kirby has said.

The Kessler facility would compete with AtlantiCare's $20.6 million, 40,000-square-foot Hammonton Health Park, which opened about two miles down the White Horse Pike in 2011. The health park offers wound-healing, cardiac diagnostics, a clinical laboratory, imaging center, satellite emergency department and other services. But Kirby has said his facility is likely to attract a different mix of tenants.

At the request of the state, AtlantiCare had operated an emergency facility in Kessler for many months, starting the day the hospital closed in 2009, Kirby has said. It invested about $2 million in upgrades there.

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:

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