A property owner is suing Kansas City in an effort to get officials to repair its blighted and dangerous buildings in the 18th & Vine District, or sell them to a viable developer.
Henry Service, an attorney who owns and works out of the Historic Lincoln Building in the historic Jazz District, filed the lawsuit last month in Jackson County Circuit Court. He is seeking to get a judge to compel the city to bring those buildings up to city and state code.
The suit also seeks an order forcing Kansas City to compensate business owners in the area for its “failure to follow the law” with money it has been given by the federal government to develop and maintain the district’s buildings.
“Indeed,” Henry wrote in the lawsuit, in a city known for jazz, dilapidated buildings in the Jazz District “add to the lack of viability of the district and, show how the said district has been purposefully neglected.”
In a statement, city spokesman Chris Hernandez said he could not comment on the pending litigation. But he said “it’s clear” the city values the district and has invested in improvements there. He promised more to come.
“Multiple projects, in various stages, are planned for the 18th and Vine District including development of City-owned property, private property and nonprofit investment,” Hernandez said.
The city also pointed to Kansas City Urban Youth Academy, about $2 million in “streetscape improvements” since 2018 and a new parking lot to support events in the district at East 18 Street and Lydia Avenue.
Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an infrastructure package that will send $22.6 million to fund five projects in Missouri’s Fifth Congressional District. That includes $6 million for a pedestrian plaza in the Jazz District.
As exhibits in his lawsuit, Service included more than 20 photographs of damaged structures and four property maps.
He noted that one building previously caught fire when someone was trying to keep warm in a roofless structure. More recently, he wrote, the face of one of the city’s buildings fell into the street.
Residents could be injured or killed, Service said.
The lawsuit further accuses the city of “weaponizing” its blighted buildings in an effort to take over of the district’s properties because when businesses fail, the vacant spaces are usually sold at low rates.
A hearing in the case is set for Aug. 18 before Judge R. Travis Willingham.