Jackson County approves $7 million deal to buy mobile home park as site for new jail

·4 min read

Jackson County will pay $7 million to acquire an east Kansas City mobile home park for the site of its new jail.

The Star first reported in March that the 107-acre tract had been the preferred site for construction of the $260 million replacement for the 40-year-old Jackson County Detention Center in downtown Kansas City.

But the deal with Park Properties Inc. of Wichita stalled when, according to legislator Dan Tarwater, Park Properties owner Rick E. Hodge Jr. upped his asking price from $6.5 million to $11.5 million and the county went looking elsewhere.

“If he comes back around, we may end up buying that property,” Tarwater said at the time.

On Monday, the legislature approved an ordinance, though not on the day’s agenda, which confirmed the county will acquire the site for the facility.

The residents of about 100 trailer homes at Heart Mobile Village, 7000 E. U.S. Highway 40, will be displaced by the project.

While the ordinance approving the sale made no mention of the residents’ fate, the sales contract addresses the concerns of county officials who had stressed that any purchase would have to include financial aid to help those residents find new places to live.

Many of the homes can be moved to other mobile home parks, but many others have been on their pads for decades and are no longer mobile.

According to the sales contract, Park Properties will continue managing Heart Mobile after the deal closes until all the residents have been relocated. That should take no more than six months, the contract said.

The county and Park Properties will share physical relocation costs of residents’ mobile homes and personal property. The county is setting aside $240,000 for that in an escrow account at the title company handling the sale.

The county also promises to pay an additional $5,000 per household to cover other expenses associated with the move.

A third-party management firm will oversee the relocation effort and disburse the money to residents.

“Before today, we couldn’t directly contact the residents of the community,” County Executive Frank White said in a prepared statement. “But now that we have completed this step, it allows us to reach out immediately to discuss our plans to take care of them appropriately, fairly and respectfully, which is my top priority. The County will be meeting and communicating directly with the residents in the coming days.”

The holding company for Park Properties bought Heart Mobile two years ago for $3.4 million. Records show that Kansas City filed a notice of delinquency against Park Holdings in October for an unpaid water bill totaling nearly $111,000.

With the sale, Jackson County can move forward with plans to build a replacement for the red-brick tower at 13th and Cherry streets that since the 1980s has been housing prisoners awaiting trial on state charges.

Prior to that, prisoners were housed in a jail on the top floors of the downtown courthouse.

Years of deferred maintenance have taken a toll on the current structure, whose multi-story layout poses security risks and is inefficient compared to the modern one- and two-story jails being built today.

JCDC Partners, the project manager Jackson County hired to build the new detention center, evaluated more than 40 possible sites for the new facility. The company selected Heart Mobile Village as its preferred site because it met all its preferred criteria.

For ease in transporting prisoners to and from their court hearings, it’s mid-way between the downtown and Independence courthouses and just off Interstate 70 on East U.S. Highway 40.

It’s also within 20 minutes of Truman Medical Centers’ hospital on Hospital Hill in Kansas City. And it’s on a bus route, which is important to visitors.

The site is big enough to accommodate the jail building, while leaving some land around it as a buffer and room to expand beyond the 1,188 anticipated beds.. Fifty acres was the minimum.

According to the project timeline, construction will begin next spring and fall 2024 is the goal for final move in.

The late Sam Licata opened Heart Mobile in 1956 along the Blue River on land he had previously operated a private airstrip called Heart of America Airport. His son Leonard operated the park for many years until his death in 2017, and his estate sold the property in 2019.

The park has 444 pad sites for trailers, but only a fourth have tenants on them today.

Residents have occasionally coped with flooding over the years, so some fill dirt will need to be brought in to secure the new jail, should the Blue River top its banks again.