How a striking building in the Jazz District was gutted to become a cultural destination

Photography provided by Tim Duggan

For forty years, the low-slung but striking Vine Street stone buildings on the periphery of Kansas City’s historic Jazz District have sat vacant, boarded up, surrounded by a chain-link fence and splattered with graffiti. They stood as a constant reminder of what was once a bustling neighborhood.

Five years ago, a trio of like-minded local businessmen decided to take a chance and renovate the abandoned buildings, creating what they envision as a “cultural destination.” The project has become an integral part of the historic district’s planned renaissance.

“We see this as expanding the cultural corridor of South Vine Street,” says Tim Duggan, who along with his wife co-owns Phronesis, an urban planning and design firm, and is also one of the three community investors that took to this space. “We feel very strongly about renovating these old buildings and finding uses for them.”

The structures that make up the 2000 Vine Street location were completed in 1878 and for the next hundred years housed Kansas City’s water and street departments. By 1978, the city had outgrown the location and shuttered the structures. The buildings sat vacant until 2017, when Duggan and his business partners stepped in.

Duggan, along with Shomari Benton, an attorney, and Jason Parson, owner of a public relations firm, banded together to buy the unique industrial buildings made of local stone and constructed with an undulating wave-like roof line. With collapsed roofs and portions of rotting floors, the city had listed the structures as “dangerous” and had deemed them unsafe to occupy. From floor to ceiling, almost everything needed to be replaced or repaired, Duggan says.

The group’s aim has been to create a mixed-use location, and so far they are succeeding. The buildings already house their respective businesses, an art gallery, event space and soon-to-be micro-brewery. The south building is fully leased, Duggan added.

With the renovations nearing completion, they are now starting to look at the nearly two-acre open space that abuts the back of the buildings. “We’re thinking about creating an outdoor space for events, a farmers market, maybe a community urban farming garden,” says Duggan, who noted that the long-abandoned Kansas City Workhouse castle across the street is slated to become a boutique hotel.

“We just hosted our first First Friday event with the art gallery here and we feel strongly that this place will become a destination spot,” Duggan says. “We’re breathing life back into it.”

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