97 years and $4 million in renovations later: Old Paseo YMCA transformed into Buck O'Neil Center

Posted at 8:10 PM, Feb 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-13 06:11:13-05

The Buck O'Neil Education and Research Center is opening on a big birthday for Negro Leagues Baseball, in the very building where it was born.

On February 20, 1920, "Andrew Rube Foster led a contingent of eight independent black baseball team owners into Kansas City. They met here at then, the old Paseo YMCA. Out of that meeting came the birth of the Negro National League, the first successful organized black baseball league," Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, said.

Now, on the 97th anniversary, the old Paseo YMCA is transformed in the Buck O'Neil Education and Research Center. It took seven years according to the owner and operator of Gates BBQ, Ollie Gates, who led the project.

The center will be used as a space for educational programming for students, using baseball to teach science. It will also be available to rent for events in the near future.

"A lot of heart and a lot of volunteer work from a lot of folks. That's what it took," Gates shared. "This had become an eyesore to our boulevard system."

The Paseo YMCA was shuttered in the 1970s and has been vacant until now. O'Neil died in 2006, before he could complete the center he hoped would be his legacy. It has taken years, but the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum has completed the lower level without incurring any debt.

Kendrick added, "We've taken our time to get to this point and each step moves us a step closer to Buck's dream being realized."

Something Kendrick notes wouldn't be possible without the commitment of Gates.

"It goes to show what happens when you have someone championing your cause and he became the champion of this cause. Buck was his friend. Different. They'd known each other for years and he just simply refused to let Buck's dream die," Kendrick said. 

Extended interview: Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

"He's not just a baron of barbecue, this man is a philanthropic person who took on a vision from a friend of his who passed away and carried it to fruition," Kansas City 3rd District Councilman Jermaine Reed emphasized.

Over the last 3 years, Reed allocated $1 million in 3rd District funds to the Buck O'Neil Education and Research Center. Just last year, 3rd District At-Large Councilman Quinton Lucas teamed up to get another $1.5 million for the project.

Lucas said, "You know it wasn't easy. Councilman Reed, Mr. Gates, a lot of people have been fighting for years and years, Congressman Cleaver as well to make sure that people know that this is more than just a set of buildings, it's more than even just a museum, this is real history."

In all, $1 million in public funding went toward the project, coupled with generous donations from people like Gates and Julia Irene Kauffman who pledged support early in the renovation process. Kendrick said when it comes to Kauffman, "Obviously her generosity extends across this city and certainly this building."

Another $1.5 million is earmarked for additional improvements for the center.

Gates has high hopes, "That this be a beginning for what the future development for this area could really be. I just really hope that it is a start not an ending."

Kendrick ended by sharing, "In many respects it's like going full circle to go right back in the very building that gave birth to the story that you're now charged with preserving. How cool is that?"



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