After years of trying, the state has sold Marlin’s vacant former Thomas Connally Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, according to a statement from Mayor John Keefer.

The building will house a program to help military personnel transition into life as civilians, Keefer wrote. Sterling VA Marlin LLC, part of a Houston-based investment group under Sterling Real Estate Development, finalized the sale Friday afternoon.

The program will be known as Operation Re Launch, and the site will be called the National Campus for Veterans Transition, Keefer wrote. The city and the state, with the help of former Mayor Elizabeth Nelson, state Sen. Brian Birdwell, state Rep. Kyle Kacal and others, have been searching for a suitable tenant since the facility was given to the state in 2006 and plans to convert it into a prison hospital fell through in 2011, Nelson said.

“Sterling has provided a perfect solution to maintaining its historical significance,” Keefer wrote. “The purpose will be to provide a place of housing, meals, counseling, job skill training and job placement for members of our nation’s military as they transfer from military to civilian life. “

Nelson will lead development of the program, Keefer wrote. While the cost of the sale is confidential, the investors expect to spend $15-$20 million on renovations when everything is done, Nelson said. The group plans to initially open 30 rooms out of the former 220-bed hospital to house veterans, and both men and women will be welcome and housed in separate buildings, she said.

Sterling Real Estate Development showed interest in purchasing both the vacant medical center and the historic, 110-room Falls Hotel about a year ago, but Nelson said the group hasn’t made an offer on the hotel. It is still considering the property, she said. Calls to a publicly listed number for the investment group went unanswered Saturday because offices are closed on the weekend.

Sterling Real Estate Development had considered buying both properties and reopening the mineral baths that once brought between 50,000 and 80,000 people a year to Marlin for the healing waters.

“This represents a tremendous opportunity for Marlin, something that could restore our economy and generate $1 million annually in tax revenues for the city, county and school district,” Nelson said at the time. “It would be like winning the lottery, and Marlin sure could use such good news.”

With the VA property sold, Nelson said the potential is limitless. The more people who come to the facility to stay or visit family, the more people will see Marlin and either want to invest, move to or bring others in, she said.

‘Untold rewards’

“It has untold rewards for Marlin. The first thing, it puts something in that building,” Nelson said. “It puts people there. It shows life. It brings a whole spirit of hope for the city.”

The former hospital has been a complication for the small city of about 6,000. In 2007, the building was expected to become a prison hospital for women. But by the time funding fell through in 2011, state taxpayers had paid $1.2 million to maintain the structure, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

The six-story structure opened in 1949 and was dedicated in 1950 to Thomas Connally, who was a U.S. senator at the time and had represented Marlin in the state House of Representatives. Connally helped make Marlin a once well-known “political mega- center,” Nelson said.

The facility had more than 50 employees, but after federal funding cuts in the 1990s, the services mostly moved to Veteran Affairs medical facilities in Waco and Temple, Nelson said.

The Marlin center then operated with a community focus until 2005, when it closed to house Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita evacuees but never reopened, according to the Statesman.

Renovations to the medical facility are expected to start in two weeks, and veterans could be in the completely renovated building as soon as Aug. 1, Nelson said.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,” she said. “It’s a feeling of delight.”

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