City could make final decision on Kuhn soon

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen could seal the Kuhn Memorial Hospital property’s fate sometime next week, pending plans from any of the parties with an interest in the property to do something with it.

The property has been placed under the city’s slum clearance ordinance, which allows the city to go in and remove the buildings and clear property considered uninhabitable, if the owner does not present a plan to demolish or renovate the property.

Community Development Director Victor Grey-Lewis on Aug. 8 gave the four parties with interests in Kuhn until Friday to provide city officials with plans to either demolish or renovate the 12.8-acre property at 1422 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Attempts to contact Grey-Lewis to determine if any of the parties responded were unsuccessful.

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If no one presented a plan, the decision on the property’s future moves to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, which could address the matter when it meets either Tuesday or Thursday. The board has already decided to take the buildings down and clear the lot.

“I think it’s in the best interest of the community,” Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said. “That place is an eyesore.”

The board in June discussed acquiring the property, but ran into problems over who owned it. According to Warren County tax rolls, the owner is listed as the Esther Stewart Buford Foundation in Yazoo City, but the tract has been sold multiple times at tax sales, clouding who has proper title to the land.

Under the city’s slum clearance ordinance, however, the city could sell the property to recover the costs of demolition.

“It should have been taken down 25 years ago,” North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said. “I’ve been dealing with this for too long. I’m ready to see it gone. I won’t be happy until I see slabs.”

The board on July 6 put the property under the slum clearance ordinance in a move to step up its efforts to remove the complex’s main building in the aftermath of the abduction and murder of Sharen Wilson, whose body was found on the property June 28.

Police said Wilson was killed in the hospital building and her body was left on the property, where ghost hunters who were on the property found it.

Initially, the board agreed to raze the larger building, because its condition allowed the city to condemn it as a menace and threat to the health and safety of city residents and advertise for bids to take it down without having to perform an asbestos abatement, which is required by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

The board later decided to raze the other buildings and clear the site. The back buildings, however, contain asbestos and must undergo asbestos abatement before they can be demolished because they are not in the same condition of disrepair as the larger building, City Attorney Nancy Thomas told the board in August.

Thomas said Grey-Lewis was working with DEQ to find a possible way to remove the buildings without going through abatement, which is an expensive process.

If the city can remove the buildings, Mayfield said he wants the city to be able to keep it clean until a decision can be made on the property.

Flaggs and South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson want to see the property either developed or used for recreation.

“I want to see something on the site that looks toward the future of Vicksburg,” Flaggs said.

Thompson said recreation would be a good idea for the property “because you have all that open space, but I can see where a residential development would work well, or a combination of residential and recreation.

“It should be something that should be in character with the surrounding neighborhood and maybe something that would influence the neighborhood.”

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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