City board sets public hearing on plans for Kuhn

Published 10:08 am Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Vicksburg residents will have their chance to comment on the city’s plans for the Kuhn Memorial Hospital property under an urban renewal program at an April 8 public hearing at the City Hall Annex.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen set the hearing Monday as part of the process under state law to acquire the property, raze and clear the buildings and other debris on the property and allow a private developer to build a residential/commercial development with recreation facilities.

Proposed designs for the development were included in a 33-page resolution the board approved Feb. 27 making a finding that one or more slum or blighted areas exist in the city. The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved the plan at a March 1 meeting.

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The board’s decision and the public hearing are the latest activities in the effort to remove the abandoned and condemned buildings that have been a problem for the city for at least 11 years. The push to remove the buildings increased with the June 28 death of Sharen Wilson, who was killed and left on the property.

More recently, the property has attracted attention with the March 2 escape of Rafael McCloud, who is accused in Wilson’s death, from the Warren County Jail. Police found evidence McCloud returned to the Kuhn property at least once since his escape.

“The citizens are concerned. When they heard he went back to Kuhn, that scared the daylights out of them. They want us to do something with that property,” North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said.

“If this goes through, I think it will put us closer to getting something done,” Mayfield said. “We have done our homework, and (Community Development Director) Victor (Grey-Lewis) has done a very good job with this. He has left no stone unturned. This will show the people we’re serious about doing something with this property and hopefully they’ll get on board.”

City Attorney Nancy Thomas said the city has to acquire the property to meet state requirements to secure a low-interest $250,000 Brownfields CAP loan from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to take the buildings down.

After the public hearing, she said, the board will officially approve the plans for the property and begin the steps toward acquiring the site. Thomas said the city is expected to acquire the property by eminent domain.

“That will be the best way to get clear title to the property,” she said.

“It’s a long process,” Mayor George Flaggs said. “But we have to go through all the steps to make sure we have clear title.”

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 hospitals.

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 city’s slum clearance ordinance in a move to step up its efforts to remove the complex’s main building in the aftermath of Wilson’s abduction and murder.

When the four 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 cleared the way to begin the process for their demolition.


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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