Page 5 of 8
"For the life of me, I don't see why they're allowed to continue," she says of the CDC-KC. "They did that Linwood shopping center, and it's a disaster. And I've said from the very beginning that we didn't want an extension of that here."
What they got has been much worse.
In the late 1990s, Keeling was excited about the promise of a new shopping center that would spur development along Prospect. A longtime neighborhood advocate, she's proud — and protective — of Blue Hills. So it galls her that the Citadel Plaza project has faltered over the past seven years.
After the CDC-KC started buying and tearing down houses, the area turned into an eyesore, residents say. The CDC-KC bought homes and let them sit vacant for months. Criminal activity flourished around the abandoned structures, and the ghost blocks turned into illegal dumping grounds. Paul Tancredi, the current president of Blue Hills Neighborhood Association, says it got so bad that the fire department and SWAT teams used the structures for training.
When workers finally tore down the houses, they didn't bother to clean them out, recalls resident Janet Boggess. "Debris, furniture, toys," she says with disgust. "It was a mess, a literal nightmare."
Threatt doesn't deny that the first phase was disjointed. "Their concern was valid," he says of the neighbors. "What occurred was, in those days, you'd get some funds in, and the money wouldn't go as far as you thought."
But the CDC-KC made mistakes that had little to do with having enough money. In January 2005, the CDC-KC agreed to pay Joseph Witherspoon $63,000 for his home on Wabash. Two months passed, and the CDC never closed the deal. After consulting a lawyer, Witherspoon assumed that the contract was void.
One day in late March, Witherspoon got a frantic call from his son, who was living in the Wabash home. A demolition crew had started ripping into the Witherspoon's still-inhabited house. Workers busted down the back door and began to strip the siding.
"Before we'd come to any kind of settlement, they started to destroy my house," Witherspoon says.
The infuriated homeowner filed suit against the CDC-KC. The case was settled out of court. Witherspoon says he was compensated for the damage.
Threatt insists that the crew only "clipped the side of his house." Photos from Witherspoon's case file, however, show one side of the home mostly torn off.
Demolitions continued during the summer of 2006 — and the fallout was far more serious.
In June, inspectors from the city health department determined that the CDC-KC was tearing down houses that contained asbestos.
When Thomas Gerleman, a public health specialist, visited the Citadel Plaza site on June 8 and 9, the area was scattered with debris. Eight men were loading lumber from a dilapidated house into the back of a station wagon. When he started taking photographs, Gerleman noted in his report, the demolition workers "became belligerent and threatening."
Gerleman reported that the owner of the demolition company, Delroy Fadell, "could not produce any documents or permits authorizing him to demolish any of the structures, nor was he aware if any environmental surveys had been done." The scene raised suspicions of widespread asbestos contamination.
"It looks like a hurricane or tornado did the demolition," Gerleman concluded.
In a letter to City Manager Wayne Cauthen, Threatt complained that the CDC-KC was being made a "scapegoat" and said he was "completely flabbergasted" at allegations that he had failed to abide by federal and state laws requiring special handling of asbestos. He wrote that media attention and the investigation by the health department were "designed to embarrass the City of KCMO and damage the credibility of the CDC-KC and the economics of the project."