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Historic School In Kansas City's 18th And Vine District Slated To Reopen As Zhou B Art Center

An architectural rendering of the north side of the Zhou B Art Center of Kansas City.

The former Crispus Attucks Elementary School first opened in 1905 as a school for Black students in Kansas City. It's envisioned as an arts center in 2023.

The Kansas City Council this week kept alive plans for an artists' hub in the 18th and Vine district.

Members approved an “amended and restated performance deed of trust” for the former Crispus Attucks School, a historic two-story red brick building at East 18th Street and Woodland Avenue.

"The Zhou Brothers Art Center will be a striking addition to the artistic and cultural landscape of Kansas City and the 18th & Vine Jazz District when we open in 2023," said arts advocate Allan Gray, a partner in the project, in an email.

The revised deed extends the redevelopment deadline for the proposed Zhou B Art Center of Kansas City, envisioned as a “sister art center” to the Zhou Brothers’ Zhou B Art Center in Chicago.

Plans call for an art museum, exhibition and gallery spaces, 45 art studios, a banquet hall, retail space, and a rooftop deck.

The vision for the project also includes partnerships with organizations, including the Black Archives of Mid-America, Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey and the Kansas City Art Institute.

The old school building has been vacant for nearly 20 years. It was owned by the city, which sought bids for its reuse in 2017.

“We’re going to bring this building alive,” Gray said on Wednesday in a presentation at the Neighborhood and Planning Development Committee. “It will be a place for the community. It will be a place for the arts. It will be a place for gatherings.”

An architectural rendering of the exhibition space inside the Zhou B Art Center of Kansas City.

Gray has been a part of the development team since the beginning. He’s known the Zhou Brothers, two Chicago-based artist-entrepreneurs, for more than 25 years — and introduced them to Kansas City.

“This project has grown quite organically following a trip to 18th and Vine and the Zhou Brothers observing the Attucks School,” Gray said.

The original deed called for redevelopment within three years of the agreement in 2018, with an eye to keeping the historic character of the building intact. But there were a few delays, in part due to the coronavirus pandemic. The project has since expanded from 20,000 to 60,000 square feet and it’s now expected to be completed by July 2023.

“We have worked very hard and diligently to preserve the character, to preserve the history,” Gray said.

The building is listed on the Kansas City Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places.

According to city attorney Amelia McIntyre, the project now “meets the National Parks Service criteria through the Department of Interior and is now eligible (and has been approved) for historic tax credits.”

McIntyre said Wednesday that the expanded project looks “more holistically at the property.” And there are benchmarks built into the project, she said, to make sure it stays on target.

Committee members also requested a security and maintenance plan — to prevent damage and vandalism to the historic building — for the duration of the project.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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