Government & Politics

Kansas City gets some needed help tearing down dangerous buildings

Kissick Construction started tearing down homes for the city this week. Jeff Padgett’s excavator ripped through a house at 8109 Highland Ave. on Thursday.
Kissick Construction started tearing down homes for the city this week. Jeff Padgett’s excavator ripped through a house at 8109 Highland Ave. on Thursday. The Kansas City Star

Kansas City officials didn’t make good on their 2012 pledge to erase a backlog on the dangerous buildings list by demolishing 1,000 dilapidated houses in two years.

Now a local construction company is helping out in hopes that other private companies also will step up to improve blighted neighborhoods.

“We firmly believe that everyone should chip in where they can,” said Pete Browne, co-founder with Jim Kissick of Kissick Construction.

This week, Kissick crews began razing the first of 10 beat-up, abandoned houses that the company plans to knock down in the Marlborough area at no cost to taxpayers.

While that’s less than 1 percent of the growing inventory of houses on the tear-down list, it could be a catalyst. The company is challenging other contractors to raze another 40 eyesores in that southeast Kansas City neighborhood.

“They don’t tear them down fast enough, I’ll tell you,” Marlborough East neighborhood leader Joyce Walker said of the city’s effort. “They’re fires waiting to happen.”

The city had pledged to demolish 1,000 dangerous buildings on the East Side by the fall of 2014. While the pace of demolitions did pick up, the city fell short of its goal by half because of funding.

So city officials were surprised and pleased when Browne and Kissick approached the mayor’s office a few months ago with their offer to help, said John Wood, the city’s director of neighborhood and housing services.

While businesses and private citizens have long volunteered to maintain and improve the city’s parks, Wood said this was the first time anyone at City Hall can remember a contractor offering to tear down buildings for free.

Normally it costs taxpayers $10,000 per demolition, which adds up fast when the annual budget for that work is roughly $1.6 million.

About 70 percent of the cost is the physical work of tearing down the buildings and hauling away the mess, Wood said. That’s what Kissick Construction is donating.

The city will handle some of the routine tasks that private contractors are usually responsible for — things like cutting off utilities, arranging permits and mitigating any environmental hazards.

Kissick and Browne got the idea after reading a newspaper article last summer that tracked the city’s failed pledge.

“When I read that article in The Star,” Kissick said, “I really felt for the people living next to the blight. I felt we could donate the demolition as long as we had the city as a partner in our cause.”

The company, which has done a lot of paid work for the city over the years, began tearing down houses this week.

“The timing is good,” Wood said.

That’s partly because the city targeted this year’s demolition effort in Marlborough, which is also where Kissick has its office. And also, winter is a slow time for the construction industry.

The project is one way to keep some of the company’s 275 employees busy, Kissick spokeswoman Babette Macy said.

Any help is welcome, Wood said.

Despite improvements in the economy, the effects of the foreclosure crisis are still being felt as vacant houses fall into disrepair and become wards of the city’s land bank.

Since the article that piqued Kissick’s interest ran last summer, another 184 addresses were added to the list.

This week’s total of 1,275 properties is higher than it was before Mayor Sly James and the City Council pledged to wipe out the demolition backlog nearly two and a half years ago.

“If there was a way to knock them down all at one time, we would,” Wood said, “but we just can’t.”

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

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