City hires attorneys to assist with acquisition

Published 9:47 am Thursday, August 11, 2016

Faced with a deadline to apply for an Environmental Protection Agency grant to help clean the Kuhn Hospital property, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen has hired a Jackson law firm to help the city determine the fastest way to the acquire the property.

The board Wednesday approved hiring Wells Marble of Jackson as consultants on the acquisition. The city is seeking an EPA Brownfields grant to clean the property, and it must own the Kuhn property under the grant requirements. The deadline for application is November, Community Development Director Victor Grey-Lewis said.

“We’re trying to determine the best way for the city to acquire the property,” City Attorney Nancy Thomas said, adding she is unable to examine the city’s alternatives because of other legal matters involving the city.

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“We need to find a way to acquire the property soon,” she said.

She said after the meeting the attorneys will examine several potential avenues to get the 12.8-acre hospital property, adding the city may follow its original plan to acquire the land by eminent domain, a legal process that allows the city to take private property and convert it to public use.

The board in April approved a resolution adopting and authorizing a 33-page urban renewal plan to first demolish the buildings on the property and clear it, then begin the process of finding a developer or nonprofit agency to develop it into a multipurpose residential/commercial development with recreational facilities.

Grey-Lewis said the grant will cover removing asbestos from the buildings on the property and clearing them, and removing an underground storage tank containing diesel fuel. The amount of the grant has not been specified, but estimates in May put the cost of razing the buildings and cleaning the site at $850,000.

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 property has been sold four times for taxes, and city officials have been trying for at least the past 10 years to get the property owner to clean the property and demolish or renovate the buildings on the site.

The board on July 6 put the 12.8-acre property under the city’s slum clearance ordinance in a move to step up its efforts to remove the complex’s main building.

The city’s efforts to do something with the property accelerated 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 back building and her body left on the property, where ghost hunters who were on the site 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 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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