Historic Board of Education Building Listed as ‘Place in Peril’ by State Preservation Group

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The historic Board of Education building at 1211 McGee would have been demolished to make way for the project. (Photo by Kate Collison)

By Kevin Collison

The former Board of Education building at 1211 McGee, slated for demolition under a now-withdrawn Drury Hotel proposal, has been listed as one of 15 “Places in Peril” in Missouri by a prominent state historic preservation group.

The Board of Ed building, completed in 1960, is the only Kansas City building included on the 2018 list compiled by the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation.

It is owned by the Kansas City School District which had reached a sales agreement with Drury Hotel earlier this year.

Drury Hotels withdrew its 242-room hotel proposal two weeks ago however, saying the city incentive package it was offered was not enough to make its $50 million redevelopment plan financially viable.

“It is hoped that by listing here a new developer might be found that would utilize the historic preservation tax credit as one of its financial incentives and be able to retain and renovate the building, which has been put back on the real estate market by Kansas City Public Schools,” Missouri Preservation stated.

The group described the nine-story Board of Ed building as having been designed in the mid-century modern style of Mies van der Rohe by prominent local architect Edward W. Tanner. It has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.

The vacant building had housed the downtown branch of the Kansas City Public Library and the offices of the Kansas City School District.

The library left for its new quarters in the historic First National Bank Building on 10th street about 15 years ago and the school district relocated to new quarters on Troost Avenue about two years ago.

Drury originally had intended to renovate the building as a historic preservation project when it negotiated its purchase agreement with the school district. Drury said that option proved unfeasible, according to its application for incentives.

“Our team dedicated many hours and resources evaluating the BoE Building’s feasibility as a historic rehabilitation,” according to the hotel chain’s application.

“However, higher than expected project costs, substantially impaired federal historic tax credits due to Tax Act changes, and a high degree of uncertainty over state historic tax credits renders the restoration option not viable.”

Rendering of the now-withdrawn proposed Drury Plaza Hotel Downtown Kansas City. (Image from Drury Hotels)

Elizabeth Rosin, principal at Rosin Preservation said the environment for financing historic preservation projects has become more difficult, particularly at the state level.

Her firm has been a consultant on some of the biggest historic renovation projects in Kansas City.

“There may be some legislation coming forth at the federal level, an accounting tweak, to offset the changes in federal historic tax law that came with the Tax Reform legislation,” she said.

“At the state level, the situation is much more concerning.”

Rosin said the entire state historic tax credit allocation for the current 2019 fiscal year already has been allocated.

Furthermore, changes made to the state historic tax credit program last year by the Legislature gave the Missouri Department of Economic Development the responsibility to conduct a net fiscal benefit analysis for projects applying for the credits.

Rosin said the development community is uncertain about what the DED will require. She added the state historic preservation office responsible for processing historic tax credit applications is “horribly” understaffed and running far behind schedule.

“It’s hard for new applicants for large (historic preservation) project to gauge the level of risk,” she said.

As for what potential uses there could be for the Board of Ed building, Rosin said the idea of reusing it as a hotel or office building made the most sense. The building has prominent public spaces that would blend well with a commercial use.

“The building lends itself well to a hotel use,” she said. “It has a beautiful lobby and the upper floors could be used as guest rooms with great views.

“If we can get over those hurdles, particularly at the state level, you’ll have a better chance.”

There have been some calls for it to be renovated as affordable housing, but Rosin said most developers would not want to pursue housing in a building with such large public spaces.

The state’s low-income housing tax credit program, a valuable tool for developers seeking to do affordable housing projects, also is in limbo in Jefferson City.

As for the remainder of the Places in Peril list, the only other building in the metropolitan area included is the Methodist Episcopal Church of 1922 at Second and Douglas in Lee’s Summit.

Missouri Preservation said the historic church is slated to be knocked down to make way for the Summit Church Redevelopment project, an apartment development. The other buildings on the list are in St. Louis and several towns.

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