A coalition of agencies seeking to stop commercial sexual exploitation, or human trafficking, has offered to buy the Truman Road campus being vacated by Saint Paul School of Theology, which has just moved to the site of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood.
The Kansas City Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation (KC CASE) hopes to acquire the 10-building campus by the end of the year, pending resolution of financing, zoning and other issues, said Steven Wagner, KC CASE president. Wagner was the director of the Human Trafficking Program at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from 2003 to 2006. He also served as HUD's director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and currently is president of Renewal Forum, one of the agencies that make up the KC CASE coalition.
Wagner said KC CASE would not itself be using all 157,000 square feet of building space on the campus but would be partnering with other agencies to create "a campus of social services that is available to the whole community." It would have early childhood education, day care, a health clinic, job training, an English as a second language program and other agencies and programs that would be intimately involved in the neighborhood around the campus.
So far, Wagner said, "we probably have 70 percent (of the former Saint Paul space) penciled in for occupancy." He hopes that within a year of occupancy the campus would be "fully occupied; by that I mean all the programs would be up and running."
"We want it to be a resource for the neighborhood," he told me in a phone interview Monday.
KC CASE would not be operating all those other programs directly, Wagner said. Rather, it would work in partnership with other agencies having expertise in each of those areas.
Two of the campus buildings would be reserved for the residential needs of people in the KC CASE sexual exploitation rescue program. In addition, the plan would be to keep the current chapel operating as a spiritual center.
Some neighborhood representatives have been critical of the Saint Paul move and worried that it would create a vacuum in an already-struggling part of town. The Kansas City Star reported on that concern earlier this year in this story. And when word began to leak out about the KC CASE proposal for the site, KSHB-TV yesterday did this story indicating some neighbors don't like the idea.
But Wagner says his group wants to work closely with the neighborhood and he believes that what his coalition has in mind will benefit the neighborhood even more than the presence of Saint Paul did. Wagner, who lives in the District of Columbia area, has been in Kansas City a lot in the last few years working with KC CASE, and said he's prepared to meet with any neighborhood interests who have concerns.
He called the campus "a gorgeous facility" and "a tremendous resource for the community. I believe unambiguously that it's going to enhance the quality of life" for the neighborhood.
KC CASE members include Pathways, self-identified as a transitional living program from Ozanam, an organization that helps homeless young people; Veronica's Voice, dedicated to ending commercial sexual exploitation, and Renewal Forum, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C., that works against human trafficking.
The KC CASE project, he said, is "intended to create a national model of how to respond to the problem (of commercial sexual exploitation) by putting into place a set of policies and activities designed to attack the root of the problem."
Missouri, said Wagner, has the best anti-trafficking law in the country and Kansas recently passed what he called an "excellent" law. "So there's a legislative component but there's also a lot of on-the-ground work," he said. And his hope is the Saint Paul site can be the center of that work.
A problem in attacking sexual exploitation, he said, is that when law enforcement authorities find young victims there often is no appropriate place to take them to get help. So "one of the elements of our action plan is to create an appropriate shelter for the victims." The former Saint Paul campus would become a place where a victim can "rebuild his or her life," Wagner said.
The Saint Paul trustees directed that when the campus is sold, it be kept whole and that the site become a home for social services.
"So I give the trustees a lot of credit," Wagner said, "because they opted not to entertain commercial development proposals."
Wagner said his coalition now is "involved in the due diligence period," where the potential buyer and the seller try to wrap up details, though he declined to identify a purchase price.
Saint Paul's president, Myron McCoy, has declined to comment on plans for the campus, though it's known that students and staff have been told that something good is coming to the old site.
The Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City announced earlier this year that the Saint Paul campus would be included in a tax increment financing (TIF) district in that area. TIF offers ways to subsidize development costs.
One of my major concerns when Saint Paul decided to make this move was what would happen to the old site -- not an easy campus for which to find a new owner. The KC CASE proposal looks promising, though there still are several hoops through which the group must jump, and no success is guaranteed.
But I would hope neighborhood and other interests would find ways to help make this proposal -- or something very much like it -- succeed.
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Before I wrote the news about Saint Paul above, I had prepared the blog item below for publication today. Because it has to do with today's date, I couldn't very well put it off for tomorrow. So you get two entries today. I had planned this headline for the item below:
Design vs. coincidence
If one were to create a numerology-based theory having to do with optimal dates on which to give birth to kids you want to grow up to be theologians, you could do a lot worse than to pick today.
Well, yes and no. All three were influential theologians. Certainly that's especially true of Bultmann and Tillich. As for Friedrich, he was a biblical scholar whose work focused on editing an important book that in English is known as the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.
So, "yes", in that all showed up on the same date, but "no" in that numerology is like astrology -- a pseudo-science rooted in the occult.
And paying attention to numerological theories is the kind of waste of the precious gift of time that good theologies warn us against because numerologists seem unable to tell the difference between something that happens by design and something that is merely coincidence.
So I count it merely a coincidence that in addition to this being the birth anniversary of Bultmann, Tillich and Friedrich, it's also the birth anniversary (1745) of famed American Methodist bishop Francis Asbury and of the lovely Episcoterian (that's a Presbyterian with deep Episcopal roots) to whom I'm married.
So happy coincidental birthday to all, only one of whom I'm taking to dinner tonight.
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THE INTERFAITH WORLD CHANGES
Some of the big national interfaith groups are struggling with finances and membership, the Washington Post reports. But that may not be a bad thing. It may be a sign that the task of creating religious harmony now has moved to the local level, where it needs to be.