City committee balks at taking ownership of historic Buck O’Neil Center

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The finance committee is raising red flags about taking ownership of the Buck O'Neil Education Center in the 18th and Vine Entertainment District.

Some council members are concerned it may not be a good investment for taxpayers.

The former YMCA is considered a historic building. The Negro Baseball League was founded there nearly a hundred years ago.

But after the first floor was renovated, vandals broke into the building last June, and a water main break caused extensive damage.

The Negro Leagues Museum received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to rip out the mold damaged floor, walls and other building materials destroyed by the water.

The city would have to replace all of that if it takes ownership of the building.

And that would drive up renovation costs, previously estimated at $2.9 million, which includes adding an elevator to the building.

"I am not in agreement with this course of action," finance committee chair Scott Wagner said. "I am especially not in agreement when we are going to put $2.9 million that ostensibly will come out of GO (general obligation) bond money, when the private sector hasn’t had a chance at that building. We have jumped to the line as the owner of last resort. We own a lot of property in that area. We only do because we took on obligations that others could not do themselves. I feel like we are adding to this for really no good reason."

A majority on the finance committee want to know if there's a market for the 3,600 square feet of office space the city would create in the Buck O'Neil Center. The first floor would be marketed as an event space for weddings and parties.

The city architect believes building operations could pay for itself with market rate office tenants and the event space booked more often than not.

But some council members aren't convinced the city should be in the office building business.

Jazz District boosters claim there's strong interest in retail spaces at 18th and Vine, with bakeries, coffee shops and another jazz or blues club talking about setting up shop there.

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