- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 1, 2015

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) - Vicksburg officials are looking for a way to buy the old Kuhn Hospital building to demolish it and turn the property over to a developer to turn the site into a residential area.

“Right now, it looks as if the best option would be to take it down, get some kind of CDBG or any other grant and turn into a housing complex with individual houses,” Alderman Michael Mayfield said.

Mayfield is taking the lead in the city’s attempts to resolve the problems with Kuhn, which has been abandoned since 1989, when the State of Mississippi closed it as a charity hospital. Two other charity hospitals in Laurel and Meridian also were closed.

Mayfield’s comments followed a brief discussion on the property at a work session of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday in the wake of the abduction and death of Sharen Wilson, whose body was found on the property Sunday night.

“The hospital has been, in my opinion, an eyesore to the community even before I took public office, which has been 20 years, now. The residents in that community have wanted it taken down,” Mayfield said.

The city has been trying for several years to get the property demolished, but has encountered a series of problems in the process.

“Every time we get right at the door of either acquiring it or taking it down, another road block shows up,” Mayfield said.

One problem has been determining exactly who has title to the property. According to Warren County tax rolls, the owner is listed as the Esther Stewart Buford Foundation in Yazoo City, but the 12.8-acre tract has been sold multiple times at tax sales, clouding who has the proper title to the land.

Community Development Director Victor Grey-Lewis said assistant city attorney Bobby Robinson is researching county land records to determine who has the title.

He said the owner of the property has announced they are abandoning the property for tax reasons.

The second issue is asbestos, which has been discovered in the building. Having an assessment to determine the amount of asbestos and having it removed is expensive, City Attorney Nancy Thomas told the board. Also, she said, a portion of the main building’s roof has collapsed.

The city applied for an Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Grant to cover the cost of assessing the building for asbestos, but the application was denied. No one in Mississippi received an assessment grant this year, Grey-Lewis said.

Grey-Lewis said the roof’s collapse could help the city get a waiver to have the building assessed for asbestos from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

“If the roof is beginning to collapse, we don’t want to send asbestos inspectors into a building that’s collapsing,” he said, adding he has been talking with DEQ officials about a waiver.

He said the city may try to acquire the property for the back taxes owed, which presently total $2,798.

“I’d like to see us acquire it to take it down,” Mayfield said.

If the city can acquire the property and remove the building, Grey-Lewis said, “Then we have the right under state statute to turn the property over to a developer for a period of two years to work with developing the property. If they can’t, the property can revert back to the city.”

“I want people to know we have not dropped the ball on this property,” Mayfield said, “but it has been a long process and a lot of stones have been thrown in our path.”

Kuhn Memorial Hospital was built on the site of city hospital that had been in operation since 1847.

The city deeded the property to the state in 1956, and the hospital became a state-run charity hospital in 1959. It was closed in 1989 under the administration of former Gov. Ray Mabus when state officials decided to close its three charity hospitals in favor of an expanded Medicaid program.

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Information from: The Vicksburg Post, https://www.vicksburgpost.com

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