Demolition has begun at the old Independence Regional Health Center –

January 7, 2010 at 9:11 pm Leave a comment

The Kansas City Star

An Independence landmark is coming down.

Demolition has begun at the old Independence Regional Health Center. As part of its conversion into a “business incubator,” developers are modifying the red-brick complex that has stood for decades in northwestern Independence.

Their plans include taking a wrecking ball to the seven-story north tower, perhaps as soon as next week.

“It’s the most economically feasible thing for us to do,” said developer David Edwards.

The demolition has prompted mixed reactions in the city. Several residents have expressed mild regret at the modification of the hospital that for many served as an emotional and economic anchor before it closed in 2007. But many of those same residents concede they are glad to know the dark and empty facility will have a new function.

“There is a surprising emotional attachment to the building,” said Brent Schondelmeyer, an Independence native. “I was born in that hospital and my father died there.

“But life moves on, and one has to cheer this project for breathing life into the building and the neighborhood.”

The incubator, the Independence Regional Ennovation Center, is scheduled to open as soon as April. Edwards described the facility as unique in that it would offer space for kitchen-based and bioscience start-ups, as well as for traditional business entrepreneurs.

In 2009, the Independence City Council allocated $10 million in tax increment financing to the project, and the Independence School District allocated about $5.5 million in TIF proceeds.

“To see the old hospital come down — with all the memories of family members passing away there and others being born — I can understand how it could be traumatic,” said Mayor Don Reimal. “But it’s also gratifying to see a hospital being reused in an original way.”

Several potential incubator tenants have expressed interest. The first, Edwards said, could be the operator of a local gluten-free bakery.

But first, demolition needs to be completed.

The tear-down began Dec. 22, almost exactly 100 years from the day — Dec. 15, 1909 — that founders dedicated the original facility. It then was a three-story nursing home for infirm members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

It grew from there. Independence residents of a certain age sometimes identify themselves by referring to the “San,” a reference to the facility’s original name, the Independence Sanitarium.

“The interesting thing is that ‘Sanitarium’ had nothing to do with tuberculosis,” said Bill Russell, a history professor at Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa. “The hospital was where the church could integrate both spiritual and physical healing.”

The name “Sanitarium” endured until 1986, when trustees decided the term was archaic. After that it was known as the Independence Regional Health Center, a nonprofit enterprise operated by the RLDS Church. That year the facility employed about 1,100 area residents.

In 1994, the church sold the hospital to the for-profit Columbia Healthcare Corp.

“Some people were upset because they felt the church was giving up that ministry,” Russell said.

But the transaction assisted the community in other ways. It placed the hospital on the tax rolls. That generated revenue that helped finance the operating expenses of the Midtown/Truman Road Corridor Redevelopment Corp. The tax abatement program offered property owners in midtown Independence tax relief when they upgraded their homes to city and national standards.

Today, Schondelmeyer said, the incubator could bring a similar economic renewal to the same area. Still, he added, pressing health care needs remain among residents of the area, which is in an older part of Independence.

When HCA Midwest Health System opened the new Centerpoint Medical Center in southeastern Independence in 2007, it closed Independence Regional and the Medical Center of Independence. Residents who lived around Independence Regional at 1509 W. Truman Road lined up to vent to City Council members regarding the impact of the hospital’s closing.

While many requested an urgent care center be established at the old hospital site, that does not seem likely now, Reimal said. He added, however, that HCA has moved a group of physicians to the Commerce Bank building at 300 N. Osage St., near Independence Square. Those same physicians also hope to schedule clinics at the northwestern Independence headquarters of the NorthWest Communities Development Corp., a social services agency.

Meanwhile, residents now must reconcile their emotions regarding the demolition.

Former Mayor Barbara Potts is among them. In the early 1950s, she served as an X-ray technician at the sanitarium. She is dismayed, Potts said, that the hospital’s north tower will come down.

“It’s a landmark, and I was hoping that they could retrofit it intact,” Potts said. “But,” she added, “ … when putting on my former mayor’s hat, I know the business incubator definitely represents an addition.”


Entry filed under: Independence Regional Entrepreneurship Center.

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