In fight to convert old school, Ivanhoe neighborhood group beats developer in court

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Margaret May wins again.
  • Margaret May wins again.

An East Side neighborhood group has beaten a private developer and a city agency in court for the third time.

The Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council wants to turn the old Horace Mann School at 39th Street and Bruce R. Watkins Drive into senior housing. A city agency, the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority (PIEA), tried to condemn the building so that a private developer could implement a similar plan. Ivanhoe stopped the condemnation by convincing a judge that the PIEA made an insincere offer for the property, which Ivanhoe had purchased -- a nice little strategy, as it turns out.

How the old school building became the subject of a court fight was the subject of a 2008 Martin column. In the story, I described how Ivanhoe and Prairie Dog, a private development company, could not agree to work together on a plan to save the Horace Mann School, which the Kansas City, Missouri, School District closed in 1979.

Ivanhoe and Prairie Dog pitched separate redevelopment plans to the PIEA, a city agency with the power eminent domain. PIEA chose Prairie Dog's proposal. But Ivanhoe was the building's owner, after coming to terms with the operators of a Christian school, who bought Horace Mann after the district vacated it.

Horace Mann School
  • Horace Mann School

The PIEA offered $180,000. Ivanhoe argued that the figure was based on a half-assed appraisal. (Ivanhoe had agreed to pay the Christian school $650,000.) Jackson County Judge Justine Del Muro, after listening to testimony for a few days, agreed that a good-faith had not been made. Del Muro also ruled that Ivanhoe, as the owner, should have had the first option to redevelop the site.

The case tested a law the Missouri legislature passed in 2006. Missouri and other states took steps to strengthen the rights of property owners after the controversial, 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court that cities could seize property for economic development purposes, and not just to build a road or school.

A state appeals court upheld Del Muro's ruling, noting the added protections for property owners in the 2006 law. There must be good money in historic tax credits, which Ivanhoe plans to use to fix up the crumbling building, because Prairie Dog appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, the state's high court indicated that it was not going to take the case, effectively validating Ivanhoe's earlier wins.

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