There are reasons why the formidable limestone building just a few blocks west of the 18th and Vine jazz district has been on the city’s Dangerous Building list.
It’s been vacant for years, a magnet for vandals and the homeless, the site of fires. It most recently operated as a haunted house, hence the sign topping the building that reads “Asylum.”
Its new owners, however, hope to restore it to its glory days, when it was the Wheatley-Provident hospital, serving the city’s black community.
Michael Edmondson, Erika Brice, and Shomari Benton bought the Forest Avenue property July 1, and plan on reselling it for commercial use after it has been stabilized and repaired.
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“We saw something that needed to be saved,” Brice said.
Wheatley-Provident was a hospital run by and for African-American residents from 1918-1972, through the years of segregation. Kansas City jazz pianist and bandleader Bennie Moten died there; many of Brice’s relatives were born there.
“This building was too important to let go,” she said. “We want to make sure this building and this history is a part of the neighborhood as it changes.”
Brice has years of experience in commercial real estate development, Benton is a real estate development attorney, and Edmondson is a developer who has worked in the Crossroads district for about 20 years. Together, and joined by partners Dick Edmondson and Shaul Jolles, they hope that the restoration of the building will help tie the east Crossroads district with 18th and Vine.
“The timing was right to save a historical beacon,” Edmondson said.
They bought the building from Mark Shay, who opened it as “Dr. Deadly’s Haunted Hospital” in the ‘90s. The sale price was not available but city records show that the property had a market value of $84,567 in 2018.
Since 2012, the former hospital has been on Kansas City’s Dangerous Building list.
Restoring the historic building also would be another step toward revitalizing the neighborhood — long on the city’s wish list. In March, two internationally renowned artists bought the former Crispus Attucks Elementary School in the heart of the 18th and Vine district to turn it into a cultural center.
Companies surrounding the old hospital were happy to hear the building had been purchased and will be restored.
Cindy Baker, chief external affairs officer at the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, whose office is across the street from the hospital, said “any kind of activity on that corner can only be good for this district.”
Workers at United American Security and Belger Cartage Services said they had seen fires on the site in the past, as well as homeless people and vandals.
Billy Gilreath, the president of M.S. Consulting, the contractor for the job, was driving by the building about two weeks ago when he saw it had been set on fire. It was the second time it had been alight that day, he said. Since then, all ground floor entries to the building have been boarded.
The development team estimates the project will cost between $2 million and $2.5 million and will be completed in 18-24 months. They said they are open to a variety of uses for the space, but think it would be special for the building to remain medical in some way, perhaps as a clinic, Brice said.
“This is a very positive development to help connect activity centers in the Crossroads and 18th and Vine. It will also remove a long-time resident from the city’s dangerous building list,” said City Manager Troy Schulte. “We at the city stand ready to help the new development group be successful.”