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New plan emerges for St. Paul School of Theology campus

Updated: 2013-10-10T03:38:43Z

By MIKE HENDRICKS

The Kansas City Star

A plan to house former prostitutes in the now-vacant dormitories of the old St. Paul School of Theology on Kansas City’s East Side is out.

Instead, a proposal could put Guadalupe Centers Inc. in the space, a move likely far more palatable to neighboring residents.

The announcement of Guadalupe Centers’ interest in the 19-acre campus at Truman Road and Van Brunt Boulevard in Kansas City came in an email update sent out by the school Wednesday.

It said that the school had entered into a contract to sell the campus to Guadalupe Centers, a nonprofit agency that provides social services to Latinos in the Kansas City area. The school hopes to have the sale completed by Christmas.

Guadalupe’s plans, the school’s update said, included a variety of possible uses for the 10 buildings, including a chapel whose white spire has been a landmark for decades in the Blue Valley neighborhood. Among the possibilities mentioned: charter schools, job training, after-school care and culinary arts training.

“We feel that this is an excellent fit for the use of the property and (are) so very pleased to be in negotiations with this fine organization,” the unsigned update said.

A spokesman for St. Paul could not be reached for comment.

Reached by phone, Guadalupe Centers Executive Director Cris Medina stressed that the deal is tentative.

His organization made an undisclosed offer on the property this week but had long been interested in having a facility on the northeast side of town near a large Hispanic population. Guadalupe is headquartered in Kansas City’s West Side neighborhood.

“We’ve been looking for some place in that area of town for some time,” Medina said.

St. Paul vacated the campus this summer after more than 50 years there, setting up operations instead at and near United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood. School officials began trying to sell the campus early this year but had strict requirements because of some deed restrictions.

The property had to be sold intact, and the new owner had to be a nonprofit that would provide educational or other community services.

Neighbors feared it would go unused for years and become an eyesore. But some said that would have been preferable to a plan announced this summer.

A group called the Kansas City Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation planned to buy the campus and devote two of the dormitories to housing adults and youths who had previously been involved in prostitution. The rest of the campus was to be devoted to providing social services, such as job training, to the broader community. But no tenants had been lined up.

Partners in KC CASE include Veronica’s Voice, which helps get prostitutes off the streets; Ozanam Pathways, which provides transitional living services for teens and young adults; and Renewal Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that works to fight human trafficking, “particularly the commercial sexual exploitation of juveniles.”

Campus neighbors were divided over that earlier proposal. Some felt it would be an asset, while most of those attending a Kansas City Plan Commission hearing in August said it would bring crime into the neighborhood.

When that proposal fell through is unclear. Reached Wednesday, Steven Wagner, president of Renewal Forum and main spokesman for KC CASE, declined to provide details.

“I don’t think it’s advantageous for us to get into this,” he said. “I really don’t have any comment to make.”

Medina said Wagner approached him recently asking if Guadalupe Centers would like to rent space at the campus.

“We weren’t interested” in leasing property, Medina said. “We wanted to own something over there.”

When he learned that KC CASE’s offer was no longer viable, Medina made a proposal, he said.

This development was welcome news to former Blue Valley Neighborhood Association president Jacky Ross, who had supported KC CASE’s plan but had feared that the plan might fall through.

“Hopefully they can get something going there,” she said. “I was praying it wouldn’t be empty for long.”

To reach Mike Hendricks, call 816-234-4738 or send email to mhendricks@kcstar.com.

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