City seeks $600k loan to raze, clean Kuhn

Published 11:00 am Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The city of Vicksburg is going to the state to seek a low interest loan totaling about $600,000 from the Mississippi Development Authority.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday authorized City Attorney Nancy Thomas to begin the process to apply for a brownfields CAP loan from MDA, which allows the city to borrow money at an interest rate of from 2 to 3 percent. The state program allows cities and counties to borrow money to improve public facilities and infrastructure to assist with business locations and expansions with community-based projects.

Brownfields funds involve money from the Environmental Protection Agency to allow local, county and state governments to assess, clean up, and reuse brownfields —property affected by hazardous materials.

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Thomas said the recommendation to seek the loan came after a meeting with representatives from MDA and Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and Gov. Phil Bryant’s office to discuss possible funding sources to take Kuhn down.

“There is brownfield remediation money available through a CAP loan,” Thomas said. “(But) right now, the limit is $250,000. We are going to request that cap be waived. We anticipate the cost would be about $550,000 to $600,000 to abate the asbestos and any other hazardous substance on the property and demolish the building and dispose of the debris in a certified landfill.”

If the cap is waived, she said, the city will sign a brownfields agreement with DEQ and a consultant to test for asbestos and develop a plan to remediate the site. The city would also get an appraisal on the property. The board has at several times discussed buying the property.

“This would be the fastest way of doing it (clearing the Kuhn property),” Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said. “It’s better than taking $600,000 out of the general fund, and (we can) spread it over a period of years, and then, it’s my understanding, if the property is ever sold, that dollar amount will be have to be paid off (before the title is cleared).”

Thomas said the city in the past has unsuccessfully applied for grants to clean the Kuhn property, adding the next round to apply for brownfields grants is November, and the city must own the property before it applies for the grant.

“If we were awarded the grant, we wouldn’t get it until June, so we felt making the cap loan would be the best alternative and hopefully we can clean that property up,” she said.

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.

The board on July 6 put the 12.5-acre 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.

When the parties with an interest in the property failed to present plans to either raze or renovate the two buildings on the site in September, it clear the way for their demolition.

But North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said the cost to demolish the larger of the two buildings was estimated at $250,000, and the cost to take down the building in the rear of the property would be even more, because it will have to undergo asbestos abatement, an expensive process to remove asbestos, a hazardous material from the building.

Community Development Director Victor Grey-Lewis said the city is applying through the State of Mississippi for a $7.3 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development National Disaster Resilience grant that would provide the funds to raze and clear the Kuhn property and transform it into a housing development of 35 to 40 single-family homes. Grants will be awarded in mid-January.

The money is part of HUD’s $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition to help communities hit by natural disasters between 2011 and 2013 become more viable. Vicksburg qualifies because of the 2011 spring Mississippi River Flood, which flooded areas of the city as the river reached a record level of 57.1 feet, .9 feet more than the 1927 flood.


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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