By Kevin Collison
The resurrection of the historic Attucks School as a major art center at the 18th & Vine Jazz District is moving forward, three years after the city awarded redevelopment rights to the Zhou brothers, renowned international artists based in Chicago.
The planned Zhou B. Art Center of Kansas City is slated for a historic building named after Crispus Attucks, a Black patriot killed in the Boston Massacre before the Revolutionary War. It opened in 1905 to serve students from the African-American community.
The $20 million redevelopment plan calls for the building to be renovated into 43 artist studios and seven gallery and event spaces. The attic will include an event space and roof deck with views of downtown. A new 4,500 square-foot entrance also is planned.
“It’s ironic that we’re filing our redevelopment plan for the project right at the beginning of Black History Month,” said Allan Gray, a partner in the venture.
“The building has an illustrious history and is named after an individual who led the way in our country. I’m happy to develop a project that’s a fine testimony to that history of our African-American community.”
The Chinese siblings established their reputation in Shanghai and Beijing before relocating to Chicago in 1986. They later created the Zhou B. Art Center of Chicago in a former Spiegel catalogue building.
Gray, a former chairman of Missouri Arts Council and ArtsKC, met them at an art conference in Chicago and introduced them to Kansas City in 2017.
During a tour of the city, the Zhou brothers visited the 18th and Vine Jazz District and became intrigued by the old school, which had been empty for 15 years. When the city sought proposals to redevelop the building, they decided to respond.
The original portion of the school opened in 1905 and it an addition was built in 1922. The 60,000 square-foot building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Gray said it took two years for the Zhou’s and their financial partners to evaluate the project with an eye to making it the “most dynamic arts center possible.” The Covid pandemic also slowed progress.
Over time, the plan grew from what was originally intended to be a phased redevelopment of the school to a decision to do the entire project at once at an estimated cost of $20 million.
The other Chicago-based financial participants in the Zhou B. Art Center of Kansas City LLC venture are Gateway Investment Partners and RDM Co.
The project also plans to utilize state and federal historic credits, and is located in a federal Economic Opportunity Zone which offers tax breaks to investors.
The architect for the Attucks School redevelopment is BNIM and construction manager is Newkirk Novak Construction Partners.
“We’re trying to be kind to the old building and its initial iteration,” said Joe Keal, a principal at BNIM.
“It’s a cool building and those historic old schools were built well…We want it to be a welcoming and energetic space for the arts.”
The timetable calls for construction to begin this summer with completion anticipated by Fall 2022.
Gray said the art center concept has been well-received in neighborhood meetings.
“We’re happy to say the project has been fully endorsed by the community and community leadership,” he said.
Liam Dai contributed to this report
Don’t miss any downtown news, sign up for our weekly CityScene KC email review here.