By Kevin Collison
The ruined former City Workhouse Castle built in 1897 to incarcerate petty criminals and vagrants would accommodate a far more upscale clientele as a boutique hotel in a new redevelopment proposal.
The massive limestone curiosity at 2001 Vine St. near the 18th & Vine Jazz District and 23 acres of nearby property are owned by the Dallas branch of UrbanAmerica.
Robert Farmer, UrbanAmerica senior vice president of development is teaming with Vewiser Dixon, president of the Eighteenth and Vine Redevelopment Corp., on the proposal.
It calls for renovating the old workhouse and building a 38,000 square-foot addition for a 60-room boutique hotel and event space tentatively called “Jazzonian.”
They also are proposing to build about 60, three-bedroom houses on vacant property immediately east.
“It’s a building with great historic character, but certainly needs a full renovation,” Farmer said. “We have a blank canvas to work with.”
The developers have hired KEM Studio to prepare preliminary design plans and have been approved for a $1.2 million grant from the Central City Economic Development sales tax board to help finance the estimated $16 million boutique hotel proposal.
The project is across Vine Street from another historic former city complex that had been left to deteriorate over the decades, the former Public Works and Water Department buildings.
Those limestone structures, which date to the 1860s, are being redeveloped as the 2000 Vine retail and office development. A third nearby historic building, the former Firehouse No. 11 structure, is an art gallery.
The old firehouse also was built from limestone quarried by workhouse inmates from an adjoining hill.
The Workhouse Castle, which is a city landmark, functioned as a jail for people convicted of petty crimes and also was an early homeless shelter.
The living conditions in the old building were considered atrocious almost as soon as it opened. It was converted to city storage and office space in the early 20th Century. The building was finally shuttered and essentially abandoned in 1972.
The redevelopment concept calls for renovating the old castle along with building the addition. The project would feature 12,000 square feet of event space, a courtyard and rooftop deck.
Farmer said its proximity to the 18th and Vine District, Beacon Hill neighborhood and the Hospital Hill district would make it an attractive hospitality asset.
The development plan is still being finalized. In addition to the CCED funding, Farmer said the developers are planning to seek tax incentives at the same level other projects have received in the area in addition to private funding.
UrbanAmerica has real estate experience in the Kansas City area.
The firm owned the former federal Environmental Protection Agency regional headquarters building in downtown Kansas City, Kan. It was sold to St. Luke Health System after the EPA left.
UrbanAmerica also is pursuing a mixed-use redevelopment plan for the former Citadel site at 63rd and Prospect called Southpointe at 63rd.
Farmer said work on the Jazzonian boutique hotel plan could begin later this year.
The residential proposal calls for developing market-rate, energy-efficient “Net Zero” houses that would generate electricity using solar panels. Farmer said that part of the project could begin as early as 2023.
Liam Dai contributed to this report
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