City takes first step to condemn Kuhn Hospital

Published 10:02 am Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The abandoned Kuhn Hospital sits off of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Vicksburg. -- Justin Sellers | The Vicksburg Post

The abandoned Kuhn Hospital sits off of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Vicksburg. — Justin Sellers | The Vicksburg Post

City officials and investors involved with the old Kuhn Hospital building will meet Aug. 24 to discuss the abandoned building’s future.

The meeting is part of the process under the city’s slum clearance ordinance, which allows the city to take over a building, renovate or demolish it, and sell the property to recover any costs.

“We are actively working the legal procedures under the slum clearance ordinance,” Vicksburg Community Development Director Victor Grey-Lewis told the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday, adding he expected to mail meeting notices Monday to all companies with an interest in the former charity hospital building. He said Monday afternoon the meeting is set for 2 p.m. at his office in the Old Carnegie Building on South Street.

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He anticipated having an order to the board to tear down the large building by late August, but City Attorney Nancy Thomas asked him to consider filing something sooner.

“We’ve got to get it done before the next tax sale or we’ll have another investor,” she said. “We’ve got to get it done before Aug. 26.”

County tax records show the property has been subject to tax sales since 2005. The Esther Stephens Buford Foundation, which is listed on the tax rolls as the owner, has redeemed the property six times since the 2005 tax sale.

The foundation has not redeemed the property since 2011, tax records show, and Linda Smith, who is identified on the non-profit corporation’s website as an incorporator, said the property was sold to a Meridian-based investment company, SKL Investments.

Warren County Assessor Angela Brown said a check of tax records indicated Long Land Investments, a subsidiary of SKL, acquired the property through a tax sale in 2011.

The city has stepped up its efforts to remove the building in the aftermath of the abduction and murder of Sharen Wilson, whose body was found on the 12.8-acre Kuhn property, 1422 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, June 28.

Under state law, the city must hold a hearing with the property owner and all people or companies with an interest in the property, in which a plan must be presented to renovate the building or tear it down. If no one attends the hearing or there is no plan, city officials can move to condemn the property and advertise for bids to raze it.

Previous attempts to take the building down have been prevented because it has asbestos, and state Department of Environmental Quality regulations require the city to have an asbestos assessment of the building before it can begin steps to raze it.

Grey-Lewis said the building’s condition would allow the city to condemn it as a menace and threat to the health and safety of city residents and proceed to advertise for bids to take it down.

“There are two buildings on the site, a front building and a back building,” he said. “The roof on the front building is starting to collapse and with that, it gives us an opportunity in working with DEQ (Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality) and (the Mississippi Department) of Archives and History to initiate legal to take that building down.”

During the discussion, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. asked Grey-Lewis if the city can block the entrance to the building’s driveway from Martin Luther King. Grey-Lewis did not believe the city could block the drive’s entrance because the city does not own the property. He said the city can post the area as condemned.

“Right now, you can drive straight to the back,” Flaggs said. “As a matter of public safety, we need to look at that. We need to make certain a vehicle can’t get in there. Right now, it’s enticing, because there’s a driveway. That building’s a hazard. People are going in there like it’s a tourist site to take pictures and do things, and I think we ought to limit access.”

A former city hospital, the city sold Kuhn to the State of Mississippi in 1956 for $5, and the state operated the facility as a charity hospital, initially known as the Vicksburg Charity Hospital, until 1989, when Gov. Ray Mabus closed the state’s charity hospital.

The city regained the property in 1990 under an agreement with the state to turn it over to a private corporation.

In 1993, the building was considered as a possible veterans home, and in 1994, it was considered for a possible 38-bed adolescent psychiatric ward.

In 1999, the building was sold to the Lassiter-Studdard Group Inc., which planned to open a 100-bed clinic and assisted living center.

The plans fell through, and in 2000, the company donated the building to the Esther Stewart Buford Foundation.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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