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Funds to clean up Kuhn property good news; next step demolition, redevelopment

The city of Vicksburg took another major step toward clearing the Kuhn Memorial Hospital property with the award Monday of two Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields grants totaling $400,000.

And while the money is short of the estimated $615,000 it will take to demolish the buildings and clear the property, it allows the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to start the process of clearing what has been a longtime public eyesore.

Community development director Victor Gray-Lewis said city officials will meet with environmental consultant PPM to develop a plan to begin asbestos abatement and removing the front building facing Martin Luther King Boulevard, which is slowly falling apart, and removing hazardous materials and other potential environmental hazards like an underground diesel tank containing 4,000 gallons of fuel.

Gray-Lewis said another building on the property has the potential for other use on the property once it has been cleared of asbestos, possibly as apartments or a condominium under a proposed city plan to convert the hospital property into a multipurpose commercial/residential development with recreation facilities.

The history of Kuhn Memorial Hospital is well known to city residents.

A former city hospital sold to the state in 1956 and returned to the city in 1990, it was considered as the site for several ventures before it was bought by a private company and later donated to the Esther Stewart Buford Foundation, which allowed it to languish.

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. The board on July 6, 2016, put the property under the city’s slum clearance ordinance, and the city acquired the property in November.

Since acquiring the property, city officials have discussed how to fund the property’s demolition and cleanup, and the EPA money now provides the means for the city to move forward with its plans to convert Kuhn from a blighted property to something that can benefit the city.

And now that the city has the funds, it needs to move forward immediately with its plan to clear Kuhn.

It took the city more than 20 years to reach this point. Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to have to wait another 20 years before the Kuhn property is cleared and converted to a better use.