Jackson County spent $1.2 million to renovate building, but sold it for $10

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. – The sale and subsequent investment of a building off of Independence City Square is drawing the ire of Jackson County leaders.

In 2010, Jackson County bought the My Arts building at 315 N. Main St. from the City of Independence for $1. The terms of the deal required the county to spend $175,000 for environmental remediation of the building.

After the remediation, the county “gifted” the building to the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office, which used it for an anti-drug program for at-risk youth.

"We didn't ask for it, it was like a gift that we didn't realize was under the tree," said Mike Mansur, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office.

But when state funding dried up, the prosecutor's office shut down the program and had no further use for the building.

While the county owned it, taxpayers paid $1.2 million to renovate and remediate the building only to see it sold for $10 to the Independence School District in July 2017.

Despite selling the building, Jackson County still needed the office space. So legislators approved a deal to rent space at a nearby building at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Jackson County Executive Frank White questions if that sale and subsequent lease are in the best interests of taxpayers.

Jackson County Legislator Dennis Waits was the man behind the sale of the My Arts Building to the Independence School District.

"The school district approached me with the idea that we could use it for the kids in the community; then to me it was a no brainer," Waits said.

When the 41 Action News Investigators asked Legislature Chairman Scott Burnett why the county didn't ask for more than $10 from the school district for the building, he said he couldn’t give “a good answer.”

While Burnett couldn't explain the price, his signature is on the bill of sale.

County Executive White was opposed to the sale.

"I just think we need to utilize county properties to the best of our abilities for our needs," White said.

Since 2012, the county has signed at least three long-term leases for office space at a total cost of about $800,000. Legislators approved the most recent one just two months before they sold the My Arts Building for $10. That leased building is less than a mile from the My Arts Building.

At the time of the My Arts Building sale, the county executive's office was in negotiations with several internal departments to use the building, including family court.

But the county legislature sold the building anyway, without White's approval.

"The building had continued to cost the county money to the point it was cheaper to close it down than it would be to operate it for a county function," Waits said.

“I've been told the electric bill was $50,000 alone," Burnett said.

But county records show all utilities for the My Arts Building were less than that amount for the last two years.

The county paid $22,000 for utilities in both 2016 and 2017 and $25,000 in 2015.

"I've always just tried to do the right thing that I was appointed to do, which is to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars," White said.

Independence School District records show the district has paid roughly $6,500 in utility costs since taking possession of the My Arts Building in January.

A security system for the still-vacant building cost the district just more than $20,000, plus a monthly monitoring cost of $58.

The custodial and maintenance cost is listed at $1,400.

Big-ticket items include outfitting the building with internet service at more than $16,000.

The district has also approved a $336,000 bid to renovate and remodel the building.

The district plans to use the space for a broadcast studio, robotics area and art gallery as part of a renaming of the building to the Independence Arts and Technology Building.

It will also include advanced placement courses for high school students in science, technology, math, journalism and art.

Students are expected to start using the building this fall.

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