Hopes to Breathe New Life to Historic Jazz District Building

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -   If you were one of the millions who tuned into the MLB All-Star game coverage Tuesday, you saw an iconic building in the Jazz District.  The Buck O' Neil Educational Center building was featured at the start of the coverage.

FOX 4 is finding out, it is thanks to a man with a name well-known to the metro, for all the work done to it.  But Ollie Gates, owner of Gates BBQ, said more work needs to be done inside.

The building has a rich story line. One most well-known is it is the birth place of the Negro Leagues. Someone looking at the center on 18th St. and The Paseo would think it's been well taken care of.

"We put a new roof on it, we plastered all the back where it needs to be stuccoed, we put 97 windows," Gates said.

Only inside the windows, lies a big problem for Gates.

"It looks good on the outside, but non-functional on the inside," he said.

Inside, Gates shows FOX 4 a dusty building with original paint from 1914 chipping every where you looked.  Gates said the building has been vacant since the 1980s.  He said he couldn't let a building named after his good friend deteriorate.

"Buck 'O Neil was a good friend of mine," Gates said.  "We saw it necessary that like Hallmark cards don't want to have their name blemished by having some deteriorated-looking spectacle, that they would be involved in, the same thing we feel about Buck," he said.

Gates also said he didn't want the place he created so many childhood memories of when it was a YMCA, to disappear.

"We played basketball here, we swam here in the winter time we did all those activities that anyone would do as a youngster here," he said.

The 80-year-old and a small crew have come there every Wednesday to fix what they could.  But Gates said now they need professional help. Their vision is to turn an old gym floor into a ballroom and make this five-story building usable again.

But it will take money to get it there. Gates said they need about $2.5 million, on top of the $500,000 he's gotten through donations or used of his own money.

Councilman Jermaine Reed from the 3rd District, said he's trying to secure funding to help.

"Mr. Gates has put a lot of his own personal work sweat and tears right into this building and if not for his vision and leadership we wouldn't be where we are," Reed said.

Gates said he hopes to have this building functional by winter.

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