The city of Independence has finalized a deal to sell the former Comprehensive Mental Health Services building on Winner Road to the newly formed non-profit Englewood Arts Missouri.
The city bought the building, which had been vacant since the turn of the century and long fallen into disrepair, in early 2018 to give itself more control that a future owner would keep it in tune with the neighborhood, and a request for proposals that year did not end in a sale.
Following Monday's unanimous City Council approval, the city will sell to Englewood Arts for its previous purchase price – $165,000 (the city also paid $910 in closing costs last year).
Michael Baxley, director of the nonprofit, previously led the Belger Arts Center that reinvigorated a vacated building in Kansas City's Crossroads District. He said this is a more layered project, as the nonprofit aims to help the surrounding neighborhood, as well. The building will be used for studio space, possibly with apartments on the upper floors.
“The building is the first big hurdle; we have the money to purchase and start work,” Baxley said. “The hope is to get first floor opened as soon as possible.”
According to city documents, Englewood Arts must make several improvements within 270 days of closing the sale or the city could reclaim the title: provide temporary power, create a safe “workers only building,” fill holes in the floor, permanently repair roof leaks, replace windows and do interior demolition and remove debris.
Council Member Karen DeLuccie had objected to such conditions, which also included a 10-year deed restriction for use and 10-year right of first refusal if the building were to be sold again, but ultimately voted yes.
“I think these people want to buy it, and I certainly want to sell it,” she said before the vote, later adding, “You're buying a partnership, not a building, but you say you want to do it, so yes.”
“This council took a stand to fight blight,” said John Perkins, whose district includes the Englewood Station Arts District. “I'm confident this is the group to get it done.”
Local businessman Monte Short, who helped form the nonprofit, said the original idea had been to buy the shuttered theater next door, but while that didn't materialize the CMHS building proved a more viable option.
The nonprofit's money, he said, has come from people both in the neighborhood and the Kansas City area pooling some resources.
“This is something, to be truthful, that will have a more community effect,” he said. “It's a joint effort, and now that we can acquire the building, we can go to foundations (for more funds).”
Ideally, the whole building will be used as maker space for artists, and Short and Baxley both said numerous artists in the region are looking for affordable space after being priced out of other arts buildings. In addition, they hope the Englewood Arts nonprofit can help make nearby homes appealing for artists to live nearby.
“We don't want to push out the neighborhood,” Short said. “We want a mix, with a flair of art.”
“I'm trying to explain that this will have a positive impact,” Baxley said of talking to area residents. “It won't cost them money.”
“It's the start of something we hope will be unique.”