Kansas City’s Vine District castle gets long-needed TLC from young couple with big dreams

05/21/2014 12:05 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

It’s like the old joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

That’s how Daniel Edwards and Ebony Burnside are approaching their vision of restoring the old workhouse castle at 2001 Vine St.

The young couple plans to hold their June 8 wedding on the grounds of the former city jail, and they hope eventually to turn the 1897 building into a community center, community garden, Internet café, homeless outreach center and event/concert space.

Their work has the blessing of the new owner of the limestone landmark, which has been vacant since the early 1970s. With the help of volunteers working through their nonprofit organization, 2orMore, they have accomplished a lot in the past month, cleaning up plants and accumulated trash.

2orMore is sponsoring an all-day concert on the site Saturday to benefit the restoration.

When Edwards proposed to Burnside in August while on vacation in Mexico, he asked for one thing, he said.

“I’m not really big on weddings,” Edwards said. “I asked her ‘Can we reinvest into the community instead of giving our money to some established venue?’ ”

Soon after they returned, they happened upon the castle one Sunday after church. Edwards grew up in the area, but Burnside hadn’t known that the castle existed.

“This castle here made sense, given that our wedding theme is legendary,” Burnside said.

In addition to their Christian faith, the couple brings an educational background that will be helpful in such a project.

Edwards holds a bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering from the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. Burnside just earned a doctorate in community psychology from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Edwards is executive director of 2orMore, which aims to mobilize young people, age 20 to 35, “around powerful ideas to inspire collective action.”

“No one is focusing on us,” said Edwards. “There are no outlets for young adults. We have the energy and the desire, but no outlets.”

The old castle, though, tends to attract people of all ages.

Rachel Boese, for example, has used the structure as a backdrop for photography. She met Edwards and Burnside there one day while photographing and joined their renovation project, helping out during an April 26 cleanup effort.

Boese told her friend, graphic artist Chad Ruddle, about the project, and he signed on to coordinate the Saturday concert.

“I saw the place for the first time, and I’ve got to admit, I fell in love with his (Edwards’) vision for it,” Ruddle said.

So did Vewiser Dixon, who heads the non-profit Kansas City Business Center for Entrepreneurial Development, which bought the property earlier this year. He’s given Edwards and 2orMore permission to proceed.

“He’s a young guy I have much respect for,” Dixon said. “It’s a good project. I like his vision. The neighborhood association likes his vision.”

The building has a troubled history, having been controlled for much of the past decade by corporations founded by or associated with Ephren W. Taylor II.

Taylor is an area native accused in a 2012 Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit of running a Ponzi scheme that defrauded black churchgoers of millions of dollars. At one point, Taylor controlled a large chunk of Jazz District property, and in 2006 announced a plan to build 42 homes there and turn the castle into a community center or museum.

That never happened.

Of Edwards, Dixon said: “I say let him try. Take one step at a time, and you gain momentum. Who knows what God has in store for you?”

John P. James, president of the Wendell Phillips Neighborhood Association, agrees.

“They’re a great couple, and the castle is something of a landmark,” James said. “We don’t want to see it torn down like the church on Benton.”

James was referring to Holy Name Catholic Church, which stood for a century at 23rd Street and Benton Boulevard before its demolition in 2011.

If Edwards and Burnside can bring life back to the castle, James said, “it will be a sign of hope.”

“It can be a reminder of what this neighborhood has accomplished in the past and what we will do in the future,” he said.

Edwards and Burnside are under no illusion that their venture will be easy or cheap. A total restoration would cost $3 million to $5 million, Edwards estimates. The roof collapsed long ago and the windows have been sealed with cinder blocks.

But they got their first grant — $12,500 from the Community Capital Fund — recently, and they’ve started an online crowdfunding campaign. They also have support from the nearby Mutual Musicians Foundation, through which they can funnel donations until 2orMore gets its charitable designation.

And so they are trying to eat the elephant a bite at a time. The first phase is cleanup.

The next will be establishing a community garden. And so on.

Edwards said it’s important to break a long-term project up into smaller segments to give young adults with short attention spans a sense of accomplishment.

“The younger generation is ready for something, if we can organize and direct that energy,” he said.

Concert at the castle

Local musical artists, including Heartfelt Anarchy, Yellowbricks, In the Shadow, Night Creation and Mime Game, will perform from 1 p.m. to midnight Saturday on the grounds of the historic workhouse castle, 2001 Vine St. Food trucks will be on hand, offering edibles for sale.

All funds raised during the day will go to restore the castle through the non-profit 2orMore organization.

Donations may also be made at gofundme.com/workhousecastle.

For more information on the project, go to 2orMore.org, facebook.com/workhousecastle or write to Daniel Edwards at Daniel@2ormore.org.

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