Flaggs wants Kuhn developed as a park as city rejects proposals

Published 4:59 pm Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Kuhn Memorial Hospital property will be developed into a park.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said Monday he will hold a public hearing Thursday, Dec. 5 at 5:30 p.m. to discuss his recommendation for a civil rights park at the former hospital site recognizing the contributions of city residents, churches and organizations important to the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King and Kuhn Hospital.

His announcement came after the Board of Mayor and Aldermen rejected two proposals for a multi-use residential/commercial and recreation development of the property.

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Community development director Jeff Richardson, who chaired a special committee to review the proposals from Joseph E. Williams Jr. and the Living Word Community Land Trust Corp., said the committee recommended rejecting the proposals because each had “deficiencies in financing.”

“We decided to recommend that we go another route,” Richardson said.

“This property, in my opinion, is very critical to the North Ward and the city of Vicksburg,” Flaggs said. “The property lies on a street named for Dr. Martin Luther King, and I think we have tried every opportunity to have some type of public and private partnership and it’s been to no avail.

“I believe the time has come that we ought to make some recommendation that would signify the significance of Dr. Martin Luther King on that street and the value of that site to the North Ward.”

Flaggs said Kuhn was important to the community, not only for the health care once provided there but also because “it was the first teaching hospital in the state of Mississippi. People don’t know it, but before Hinds Community College, you couldn’t get a degree in nursing (outside of Kuhn).

“It opened the doors for a lot of people, and we have a lot of nurses because of Kuhn Memorial Hospital.”

Flaggs recommended appointing a five-member commission to determine what should be done in regards to the park.

“I believe the time has come to do three things,” Flaggs said. “Erect a statue or some monument fitting to Dr. Martin Luther King and what he has done, a monument that is fitting for Kuhn Memorial Hospital and a civil rights park in the city of Vicksburg.”

Flaggs envisioned the park as a tourist destination and a site with a walking trail where people can walk for exercise as they tour the park.

“I think this will be the beginning of recognizing that area in a way we have never recognized it in this city,” he said.

The proposals rejected Monday by the board marked the second time it had advertised for bids to develop Kuhn into a multiuse residential/commercial and recreation development.

The board first advertised in May for proposals to develop the property but no one submitted plans by the August deadline.

A city-owned building, Kuhn was funded and operated by the state of Mississippi as a charity hospital until 1989.

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, and later considered as the possible site for a 100-bed clinic and assisted living center.

In 2000, the Lassiter-Studdard Group Inc., which owned the property at the time, donated it to the Esther Stewart Buford Foundation.

Since then, the property was sold six times for taxes, and city officials tried for at least the past 10 years to get the property owner to clean and demolish or renovate the buildings on the site.

The board on July 6, 2017, 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.

When the parties with an interest in the property failed to present plans to either raze or renovate the buildings by September 2017, it cleared the way for the city to begin the process for demolition.

The city officially took title to the Kuhn property Nov. 1, 2017, after reaching agreements with the four parties that had interests in the property.

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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