Abandoned houses come down in Kansas City

Big backhoe teeth crunched into the roofline, ripping a hole in one wall of a small frame house and signaling the start of a program to rid Kansas City of about 800 abandoned and dangerous houses.

City officials gathered Tuesday in front of 2021 and 2023 Chelsea Ave. to mark the first home demolitions in the $10 million plan. Part of the celebration honored Kissick Construction Co. and Industrial Salvage & Wrecking Co., which are donating services.

“We’re getting a $600,000 savings because of volunteered demolitions,” City Manager Troy Schulte said of the program so far.

Twenty-three houses are to come down within two weeks, with a goal of 60 demolished within 75 days, said Jim Kissick, owner of the construction company.

Kissick said he put out a call for demolition companies to volunteer their services and has 25 to 30 contractors lined up to take down two or three houses each. Eight contractors are helping with the first round of demolitions, he said.

Chuck Cacioppo Jr., president of ISW, said his company does a lot of dangerous-building work for the city, “and I believe in giving back because the city has done a lot for me.” Cacioppo called for more demolition contractors to “jump on board” to defray the program’s costs.

Nick Dodson, who grew up across the street from the two abandoned houses, said his parents still live in their tidy house that faces vacant yards and the targeted houses.

“My mother grew up in this house and doesn’t want to move,” Dodson said. “This will be a nice change.”

John Wood, director of the city’s Neighborhoods and Housing Services Department, said demolitions were particularly needed in what’s known as the East 23rd Street PAC, a neighborhood bounded by Truman Road, Interstate 70, Van Brunt Boulevard and I-70 again as it curves around the area.

“This is one of the city’s worst areas in terms of older, neglected houses,” Wood said. “It has a high percentage in terms of properties in the worst condition.”

Mayor Sly James focused on “celebrating the progress we’re making” in the two-year plan to tear down dangerous commercial and residential structures. Many of the properties were acquired by the city’s Land Bank after property owners failed to pay taxes or keep them up.

The intensive demolition program began this summer with the razing of the former Black Angus restaurant at 6001 Troost Ave. and the former Manchester Elementary School at 6835 E. Truman Road. Both Land Bank properties had deteriorated far beyond any chance of rehabilitation.

The two bungalows on Chelsea stood next to a third abandoned house that’s also a Land Bank property and is up for sale for $1 to a buyer who promises to renovate it up to code. About 50 houses so far have been sold through the program in various parts of the city.

“Surprise. Nobody wanted it,” Schulte said of the house at 2017 Chelsea, adding that demolition of the next-door eyesores might make the 2017 address a more attractive property.

Under the terms of the program, buyers of the $1 houses have options to acquire adjacent vacant lots if they, too, are Land Bank properties.

Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté commended the demolition as a crime-fighting and safety measure that will help deter illegal dumping, vandalism and drug trafficking. He said the Police Department has helped the city identify some of the worst properties.

Kissick, whose company previously tackled demolition of 10 derelict houses in the Marlborough neighborhood in southeast Kansas City, said the work produces heartwarming stories. During a Marlborough demolition, he said, an elderly woman came out of her nearby home and stood crying in the street, “ecstatic about what was taking place.”

Participants at the Chelsea demolitions also credited the city staff for readying the properties by vacating all utilities and arranging the removal of any recyclables.

The housing demolition program can be tracked online at Kansas City’s open data catalog at data.kcmo.org. City officials said the second year of the demolition program will be dedicated to privately owned buildings, allowing more time to track down owners and notifying them of the impending work.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford