By LESLIE COLLINS
June 19, 2013
When Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) saw the former Hardesty Federal Complex up for sale, they knew it could fit within their organization’s vision.
Where others saw dilapidation, they saw the potential for creating a food hub on the 18.3 acre site.
“The food hub concept is really about increasing the volume of locally grown, healthy produce that gets consumed in our communities,” said Jim Turner, chief financial officer of AAFE and project manager for the Hardesty Renaissance Economic Development Corporation, a subsidiary of AAFE.
AAFE purchased the site from the U.S. General Services Administration in September of 2011 and is in the process of completing a detailed market analysis study as well as developing a business and financial plan for operating a food hub.
Established in 1974 to promote equal employment opportunities, the New York City-based nonprofit organization now employs 80 full-time employees and owns and manages more than 700 affordable housing units. AAFE also manages two Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and offers a number of community-based programs. This is the first time AAFE has expanded outside of New York City.
Most of the former Hardesty Federal Complex was built during the Word War II era and served as the U.S. Army Kansas City Quartermaster Depot, with the earliest building dating to 1920.
As the U.S. entered WWII, the Army began chemically treating military uniforms to protect against enemy gas attacks, said Jason Klumb, regional administrator for the General Services Administration Heartland Region 6. Some of those solvents used to treat uniforms, like trichloroethylene (TCE), leaked into the soil and groundwater on part of the site, and GSA is dealing with the pollution 70 years later, Klumb said. Fuel from underground storage tanks also contaminated the ground.
GSA took ownership of the site in 1960, which housed a number of agencies including the Commerce Department and Environmental Protection Agency. For the last 11 years, the site sat vacant and GSA is currently responsible for testing, monitoring and remediating the soil and groundwater contamination. GSA is also testing the surrounding neighborhood, which includes Hardesty on the west, Thompson Avenue on the north, South White Street to the east and Independence Avenue/Wilson Road on the south.
“The trichloroethylene is at very low levels; it’s heavier than water, so it sinks to the bottom of these underground pools, so there’s no health risk. But, there’s a desire to clean it up,” Klumb said. “With the advances in technology, we have more effective and cost-effective ways of doing that. It’s unfortunate that you have 70-year-old pollution. It’s fortunate that we continue to gain the knowledge and resources to clean it up.”
To discuss the pollution and future testing, GSA will host a public information session on Thursday, June 20, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the North-East Public Library, 6000 Wilson Rd.
“It’s an attempt to partner and ensure that we’re answering any questions that community members may have,” Klumb said.
Officials in attendance will include representatives from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), the city health department, Hardesty Renaissance Economic Development Corporation, GSA and the contractor conducting the testing.
“It will be a way to begin a two-way conversation,” said Angela Brees, regional public information officer for GSA Heartland Region 6.
Community members with questions may also leave a message at (816) 926-6903 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As for the six buildings on site, AAFE will be responsible for remediating lead paint and asbestos. Vandals have also stripped the buildings of copper and iron, which will add to the cost of renovation.
To date, Hardesty Renaissance has been awarded grants totaling $97,500 and applied in May for the city’s Brownfields revolving loan fund.
The role of the food hub is to partner with farmers and growers within a 150-mile radius and serve as a distribution and processing center, offering retail and wholesale options. Hardesty Renaissance also plans to offer marketing and logistics support to local urban farms and provide food related programs and education.
Benefits of a local food hub include keeping distribution costs lower, reducing one’s carbon footprint and maintaining higher levels of nutrients in the produce since it has less distance to travel to the consumer.
“From the federal government perspective, this is an ideal situation to take a former federal facility and turn it over for private development in a way that’s going to improve the neighborhood,” Klumb said
The food hub will create a number of long-term jobs and City Council member Scott Wagner envisions the center partnering with a variety of entities like local schools, hospitals and restaurants. Even the Kansas City Zoo has voiced interest in the concept, he said.
“Those institutions have to buy that food, the only question is from where,” Wagner said.
Buying local is the perfect answer, he said.
“If this is commercially successful, then you’ll end up with a revenue stream that enables you to feed mission driven things, such as access to healthy food for low income families,” Turner said.
Access to healthy food is vital, especially in south Kansas City, where the area is classified as a “food desert” where there’s little or no access to healthy, unprocessed food.
“Because of that (food desert) there’s greater instances of hypertension, diabetes and other health problems, primarily because the food that most people have access to is processed, and therefore leads to a great deal of these other health problems and issues…” Wagner said. “The result is you have a less healthy population which has its own costs down the road.”
Hardesty Renaissance is open to other options in addition to the food hub, Turner said. Earlier this year, Hardesty Renaissance commissioned the Kansas City Port Authority to conduct a study on feasible uses for the site and a group of University of Kansas (KU) student architects brainstormed feasible uses for the site as a class project. Their ideas included partnering with a local community college to offer an agriculture/culinary program, establishing residential housing on-site and creating a community center, among others.
“We talked about the food hub as the first project, but there’s so much more,” Wagner said. “There’s so much more and it becomes not the destination, but the jumping off point for something greater.”