City awaits decision on grant allowing Kuhn’s demolition

Published 7:34 pm Saturday, March 18, 2017

The future of Kuhn Memorial Hospital could lie with the Environmental Protection Agency.

The city of Vicksburg has applied for two Brownfields cleanup grants totaling $400,000 to help pay part of the estimated $850,000 cost of razing and removing the three buildings and removing a diesel tank containing 4,000 gallons of fuel.

Funded by the EPA, Brownfields grants provide money to help local governments clean and renovate former hazardous material sites.

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“We’ve applied for two grants because the buildings are about 100 years apart,” community development director Victor Grey-Lewis said. “The building in the front (facing Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) was built in the 1850s and added on through the years, and the building in the back was built about 100 years later.

“Because the grants will not cover the full cost of the demolition, we’re probably going to apply for a CAP loan from the MDA (Mississippi Development Authority) for $250,000. We’re hoping MDA will allow us to apply for two loans.”

The state’s Capital Improvements Revolving Loan Program, or CAP, provides low interest loans to cities and counties to fund capital projects in the community.

First, however, the county will have to see if its grant applications are approved. The city could receive word whether it gets the funds in May.

“This is a very competitive grant,” Grey-Lewis said. “We have received an assessment grant (for Kuhn), so I hope that helps.”

The city officially took title to the Kuhn property Nov.1 after reaching agreements with the four parties that had interests in the property.

The decision to acquire the property came after the board in April 2016 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.

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 six times for taxes, and city officials had 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, 2015.

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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