Five more down.
By JOE ROBERTSON
The Kansas City Star
Twenty-two to go.
The sale agreements on vacant Kansas City schools might not qualify as a land rush yet, but new deals approved by the school board Wednesday night continue what developers and neighborhoods hope is a change in momentum.
After all, the languishing behemoth of West High School, Switzer Elementary and Switzer Annex, after years of wrangling, has an approved buyer.
“It’s taken a lot of time to get to this point where the district is willing to dispose of property,” said developer Tony Salazar. “The stars are aligned. Now it’s up to the execution.”
Salazar, of the Los Angeles-based McCormack Baron Salazar, is partnering with Westside Housing Organization to carry out what would be a massive undertaking in the 1800 block of Madison Avenue that has been at least five years in the works.
The developers are proposing a combination of market-value rental units and affordable rental units. Large spaces like the school’s auditorium, gymnasiums and library are being proposed as sites for community services.
The plans for the annex, a separate site, still must be determined but could be senior housing.
Another building that has been vacant for several years — Bingham Middle School near 75th Street and Wornall Road — was approved for sale to Waldo Partners which is planning a Hen House grocery store.
Two buildings that more recently were vacated by the district — Swinney Elementary and Blenheim Elementary — were approved for sale to Kansas City Sustainable Development Partners.
At Blenheim, 2411 E. 70th Terrace, the developers plan a mixed use with commercial tenants such as a health clinic and residential uses in the upper floors.
Swinney, just west of the Plaza on 47th Street, is planned to become medical office suites with some community space.
The sales have contingencies — some needing successful bids for historic site tax credits and low-income housing tax credits. A total of seven buildings now have sales agreements since the repurposing process began more than a year ago.
One sale has closed — Longan Elementary School to the charter school Academie Lafayette. The sale of Douglass Elementary School to the charter school Alta Vista is expected to close in July. Another sale, of Seven Oaks Elementary School, is contingent on tax credits.
“I hope this will continue to build confidence,” said Shannon Jaax, director of the district’s effort to repurpose 30 vacated properties. “I think we’re on track.”
But selling property remains an anxious and frustrating process, said Alfredo Parra, who lives across the street from West High School and has long been unhappy with the district’s upkeep of the property.
Kansas City’s West Side neighborhood has worked to revive its community in all directions, while the deteriorating complex of school buildings clogged its center.
Parra believes the revival of the West Side should compel the developers to aim higher in their aspirations and try to bring in a grocery store.
“We could get something that would be a real shot in the arm for the neighborhood,” Parra said. “There have been so many mistakes (with the school properties). Let’s get this right. We’ve waited so long.”
All of the sale agreements are also contingent on the developers continuing community meetings to share their plans and gather input.
The plans for the West High School complex still have some flexibility if investors appear to back other desirable plans, said attorney Michael Duffy with the Westside Housing. But the developers will soon need to make an application for financing, which will lock the plan in.
Next on the list?
The district, through its real estate partner Block Real Estate Services, is collecting offers for six more properties — Dunbar, Moore and Thacher elementary schools, Northeast Middle School, and Westport High School and Westport Middle School.
The district has also received an offer to turn Bryant Elementary School into a new home for the Rockhill Tennis Club at Wornall and Westover roads. But the district, by state statute, must reopen bidding through its broker because Rockhill does not qualify as a community group with a public purpose. So other offers may still be coming.
Many of the remaining schools will present more difficulties in finding new uses, either because of their condition or their locations.
“This repurposing is hard stuff,” board vice president Crispin Rea said.
The closure of many of the vacant buildings in 2010 played a pivotal role in a wide range of budget cuts that have helped the district balance its budget and protect its financial reserves.
In other actions Wednesday night, the board approved the administration’s proposed budget for 2012-2013 that continued its streak of balanced budgets. The district cut another $21 million to set its projected expenditures at $235 million.
To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.