City to get Kuhn property through eminent domain

Published 10:11 am Friday, August 26, 2016

The city of Vicksburg is going to court to acquire the 12.8-acre Kuhn Memorial Hospital property.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen Thursday approved a resolution authorizing the Jackson law firm of Wells Marble to begin the process of acquiring the property through eminent domain, a legal process that allows a governmental body to take private property and convert it to public use, subject to reasonable compensation to the property owner.

The city hired the firm earlier in August as a consultant on the proper action to take to acquire the site.

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City Attorney Nancy Thomas said the hearing on the city’s action will be in Warren County Court in a special court of eminent domain, adding the process should begin by the first part of September.

“We want to wait until after the (county) tax sale, so if anyone purchases the property, they can be included as a defendant,” she said.

The county tax sale is Monday. Presently, four different organizations have an interest in the property.

“I’m hoping we can move as soon as possible to get the property,” she said. “We are working on a tight timeline, because we need to own the property before the deadline to apply for a Brownfields grant.” The application deadline is in November.

A Brownfields grant provides governments money to clear and clean former hazardous materials sites that can be restored to public use. The city is seeking a grant to help pay the estimated $850,000 cost of razing the buildings on the property, removing an underground diesel storage tank and clearing and cleaning the property. The city must own the property to be able to apply for the grant.

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.

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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