Updated, 11 a.m. Monday: Concrete dust filled the air as a demolition crew began tearing down the old Royale Inn, a blighted motel at Independence Avenue and The Paseo.
Before the city acquired it last year for $1.8 million, drug dealers and prostitutes frequented the Royale. A woman was found murdered in a stairwell in 2011.
But an infusion of federal dollars is changing all that. In 2015, Kansas City received a $30 million Choice Neighborhood Grant from the U.S. Department of House and Urban Development to clean up the neighborhood.
"I know you've waited a long, long time for this day to come," Kansas City Mayor Sly James told the community and business leaders who assembled in the Royale Inn parking lot to watch the motel's sign come down.
Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences had already torn down another blighted motel, the Capri, at the same intersection.
Demolition starts with knocking down the Royale Inn sign. pic.twitter.com/WHkfAkIvpO
— Elle Moxley (@ellemoxley) March 20, 2017
Bobbi Baker-Hughes, President of the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, presented the mayor with an old motel key.
"Make sure this shows up on TV," James told the news crews, "so my wife doesn't find it and think something weird's been going on."
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Demolition crews are pulling down an old motel that stands on a major gateway into Kansas City. The demolition of the vacant Royale Inn, on the corner of Independence Avenue and the Paseo, is an important step in the Paseo Gateway revitalization project.
The plan aims to improve the livelihoods of people living in neighborhoods east of the Downtown area, such as Paseo West, that struggle with high rates of poverty and violent crime. The urban renewal project includes housing and public transport.
Kansas City, Missouri spokesman Chris Hernandez says Monday, the start of the motel’s demolition, is a day of celebration.
“The folks who live around there have been wanting to see this for quite some time,” he says.
“The motel has been there since the mid-‘60s and in recent years it has become a really bad place. There was a lot of crime by people who were living there,” adds Hernandez.
Crews will begin by bringing down the motel’s large Royale Inn sign.
BJ is a local resident who works with Freedom Fire Urban Ministries. He was homeless in this neighborhood for many years and thinks pulling the motel down will help improve the area.
“There was a whole lot of [drug] trafficking and since they’re trying to clean up the area, it’s about time for this one to come down.”
But he’s also nostalgic about the passing of a building that reminds him of the many years he spent living on the streets.
“It’s like a landmark of us soldiers, which is how some people call us homeless,” he explains. “I’m not on the streets any more but at any given time I could be and it’s been around here for years, longer than me. Are we sad to see it go? Sort of, kind of.”
Beverly Cole, is an assistant minister at Freedom Covenant Church, just down the street from the Royale Inn. “It turned into a nest egg for crack users and drug dealers and stuff so I think that’s part of the reason why they’re tearing it down,” she says.
However, Cole does have concerns about the revitalization project that includes new housing.
“My concern is: Will the rent be high on the units? Because this is a very poor community so they might not be able to afford the rents.”
City officials say the motel's demolition could take two months.
Danny Wood is a freelance reporter for KCUR