Perhaps the nastiest and most prominent blemish on the face of Kansas City is the northwest corner of 63rd and Prospect.
That’s the site of what a pair of crooked developers envisioned years ago as an $80 million, 35-acre shopping center, featuring a grocery, homes, restaurants and other retail businesses.
It was nobly called Citadel Plaza.
Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? If you hadn’t seen it and knew nothing about it, you might say, “What is this Citadel Plaza? Is it anything like the Country Club Plaza?”
Well, no. It’s 35 acres of junk, including run-down houses, weed-covered fields and asbestos detritus.
The toll that this particular site has taken on the city, particularly East Side residents, is much worse than what most other sections of arid, city landscape have taken. The curse of that site goes back almost 20 years.
* In 1994, one of Jackson County’s most respected and talented Circuit Court judges, H. Michael Coburn, died after falling into an unsecured elevator shaft of a boarded up, abandoned building on the site. Carrying a flashlight and leading a group of people, Coburn was inspecting the building as part of a court case. I believe that the guy who owned the building, a dentist by the name of Thomas Wrenn, is still doing dental work in a partially boarded up building — not the same building — that is on the Citadel site and facing 63rd Street.
* In 2008, the City Council voted to provide $20.5 million to a development outfit called Community Development Corp. of Kansas City. The idea was to jump start the project. Turned out that the principals, William M. Threatt and Anthony Crompton, were crooks. They ended up pleading guilty to violating the federal Clean Air Act by improperly removing and disposing of asbestos-containing materials while demolishing numerous homes on the Citadel site. Crompton was sentenced to three years probation and five months in a halfway house. The Kansas City Star’s electronic library does not show what Threatt’s sentence was, as far as I can tell.
*Despite their own legal problems, Threatt and Crompton sued the city for refusing to deliver the $20.5 million. In November 2011, the City Council approved a $15 million settlement to resolve lawsuits involving the development’s creditors and to give the city clear title to the land.
Fortunately for taxpayers, none of that money went to Crompton or Threatt. But that’s the only fortunate thing that has come out of the Citadel Plaza debacle.
The most pathetic part of the situation is that the site remains just as junky and just as asbestos ridden today as it was when Threatt and Crompton inflicted their damage on it.
In Tuesday’s Star, City Hall reporter Lynn Horsley reported that “the long-awaited cleanup of the failed Citadel Plaza site…is finally set to begin, at least in a small way.” Horsley said that “test pit activity” will start today, Wednesday, on four to six lots out of the 68 vacant lots that have been identified for possible buried asbestos. If contamination is found, city officials told Horsley, it will be disposed of properly.
So, two years after the $15 million settlement was approved, the city is finally getting around to testing some sites for asbestos, not actually digging it up and getting rid of it.
That is pathetic.
At least the bureaucrat in charge of the project, Andrew Bracker, had the decency to acknowledge that the cleanup is taking longer than expected.
Horsley wrote: “The city has a $500,000 federal grant for cleanup and some bond funds available, but Bracker said the city wants to conserve as much money as possible for work needed before development begins.”
Now, just what the hell does that mean? It’s gobbledygook. Wouldn’t it make sense for the city to clean up the area as soon as possible precisely so that development can begin?
As I read Horsley’s story, I hesitated when I saw Bracker’s name. It sounded familiar. I went back to a blog post I wrote about the Citadel mess two years ago, and, yep, there was Bracker. I had run into him at the site while doing some reporting before writing the post. He had recently taken charge of the cleanup and was familiarizing himself with the site.
At the site, I chatted with Bracker for a few minutes, and he gave me his business card.
An hour or so later, I sent him an e-mail, asking when the cleanup might begin and how much it might cost.
The plan, he responded, was to “clean up the site as soon as practicable.”
Since the city is not much farther along now than it was in February 2012, I think it’s safe to conclude that when Bracker says “as soon as practicable,” it has nothing to do with soon.
But I gotta hand it to Bracker for his use of the word “practicable.”
According to OnlineGrammar.com, an important distinction between practical (which means useful) and practicable (which means feasible) is that “practical can apply to people and skills, while practicable only applies to plans or actions.”
Or, in Bracker’s context, should we say lack of plans and action.