By Kevin Collison
The long-vacant Wheatley-Provident Hospital, an important landmark in the Kansas City African-American community, has been purchased by a development group with plans to renovate it as offices.
The deteriorating building at 1826 Forest was the only hospital operated and staffed by black doctors and nurses at a time when healthcare services were segregated in Kansas City. It served the African-American community from 1918 until its closing in 1972.
Developer Michael Edmondson, who has extensive experience renovating properties in the Crossroads Arts District, wants to convert the 21,000 square-foot limestone building into offices.
He considers it another step toward connecting the 18th and Vine Jazz District with the East Crossroads.
“We’d like to get a single-tenant user, preferably a healthcare tenant,” he said. “We want to save the building and activate it. It’s a key to connecting the Crossroads and 18th and Vine.”
The building has been on the city’s dangerous building list for years with the threat of demolition hanging over it. Except for occasional uses as a haunted house, the former symbol of African-American professional achievement has been an empty shell.
“I believe it can be a catalyst for their area, a beacon on the hill connecting east and west, and north and south,” said attorney Shomari Benton, a partner in the development group.
The other partners in what is estimated to be a $2.5 million renovation project are Erika Brice of Rector Development Ventures; Dick Edmondson, Michael’s father, and Shaul Jolles, another developer with experience in the Crossroads.
MS Consulting is stabilizing and securing the building.
Edmondson said there was a fire set in the old structure the day after the partners closed on its purchase a couple weeks ago.
The tentative timetable is for site to be secured and cleaned up beginning now, identifying a tenant within three months and having the project completed in about a year, Brice said.
She said the building’s historic importance as a black-run hospital will hopefully be renewed in its new life.
“We want it to have community impact and benefit,” she said.
The project came together beginning last November. That’s when Brice first began looking at the building, which was built in 1909 as a parochial school.
“I like historical properties, but I didn’t know if I could make it work,” she said. “I started looking again in March with Shomari.
They then approached Edmondson, who already had experience in the East Crossroads as a partner with Stretch owning and operating the Crossroads KC outdoor performance venue a few blocks west on 18th Street.
“I didn’t know anything about the building until Shomari came to me and said we have to save this building,” Edmondson said.
The developer said the planned redevelopment is fully backed by the city and has signaled willingness to back the project with incentives. Brice said it also may be eligible for financial help from the non-profit National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“The Trust has established a special fund to invest in African-American resources,” she said.
While plans are underway for the Wheatley-Provident Hospital, another development step that would help connect 18th and Vine with the Crossroads is being taken by the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority.
That agency is now reviewing development proposals for its nearby property at 18th and Forest.
“The overarching element is there’s a lot of interest in connecting the East Crossroads with 18th and Vine, Benton said.
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