Wellness Center Planned for Former Wendell Phillips School Near 18th & Vine

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An overview of the community health campus planned for the Wendell Phillips school property, the school is at upper left and planned townhome apartments are across the street. (Rendering by SWT Design and Hoxie Collective)

By Kevin Collison

The former Wendell Phillips school near the 18th & Vine District is slated to become a community wellness center serving the neighborhood and a new affordable housing project planned across the street.

Urban Catalyst Inc. has acquired the school at 24th and Vine from the Kansas City Public Schools and is planning an estimated $10- to $15 million investment in renovating the building and its adjoining playing field.

“We are excited to develop this new community wellness campus to meet the needs and enhance opportunities for our Kansas City neighbors,” Jamee Rodgers, Ph.D. and CEO of the Urban Neighborhood Initiative (UNI), said in a statement.

Urban Catalyst, an affiliate of UNI, also is partnering with Brinshore Development on a $10.6 million project that will add 39 affordable apartments in 10 townhome-style buildings across Highland Avenue from the school.

The Crescendo apartment project is planned for Highland Avenue across from the school.

The proposed Crescendo apartment project has been approved for $513,000 in low-income housing tax credits from the federal government and the Missouri Housing Development Commission (MHDC). It also received $2 million from the city Housing Trust Fund.

The development is expected to include one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and rent for households earning between 30 percent and 80 percent of the area media income (AMI). A one-bedroom at the 30 percent AMI level could rent for as low as $355 per month.

As for the former school, the Urban Catalyst group bought the building at the beginning of the month from the district. It’s been closed since 2019.

In an interview, Rodgers said his group plans to assess the property’s needs and hopes to begin construction by the middle of this year.

“We’re doing an engineering and environmental assessment of the site to see what can be used,” he said. “The building is in disrepair and we need to do renovation.”

Work is anticipated to be completed by early 2024.

The Wendell Phillips school was closed by the school district in 2019.

His national non-profit expects to obtain private and public funding for the community wellness center development from a variety of sources, including revenue from other real estate investments.

Kansas City is the 15th city to be chosen to implement what’s called the Purpose Built Communities Initiative. Others include Omaha and Orlando.

Programs planned include youth and adult STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) programming, culinary training classes and cafe, health care clinic, small business spaces and early learning classrooms, according to a press release.

“Wendell Phillips, a school built to educate African-American students during segregation, is a landmark for the neighborhood and with the redevelopment plan, we hope its legacy of serving the community continues for decades,” Dr. Jennifer Collier, KCPS superintendent, said in a statement.

The community wellness campus will include green space and a bioswale. (Rendering from SWT Design and Hoxie Collective)

Rodgers said a later phase of the project calls for construction of a building on the campus that would have retail and commercial space on the first floor and mixed-income apartments above it.

About 15 employees of Urban Catalyst are expected to work in the former school and an estimated 30-40 full and part-time employees are expected there when the work is completed and programming begun.

“We’re excited and look forward to serving the community,” Rodgers said.

The Wendell Phillips community wellness project is occurring at a time of significant reinvestment in the 18th and Vine area and nearby blocks.

The city recently announced its moving forward with a plan to convert 18th Street where it runs through the district into a more pedestrian-friendly corridor.

Other big investments underway: the $25 million One Nine Vine apartment project; $20 million Zhou B. Art Center, 1815 Woodland; $5 million 2000 Vine mixed-use renovation project, and a $23 million residential renovation project on Vine between 18th and 19th streets.

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