For years, the old YMCA building was an eyesore at the entrance of the 18th and Vine District. But over the last few years, the façade has been restored and the windows replaced. And, on the south wall, a giant mural has gone up of the legendary baseball player, coach and keeper of the Negro Leagues flame Buck O’Neil.
The Negro Leagues got their start in Kansas City, when eight independent black baseball teams met at the Paseo YMCA in 1920. Buck O'Neil played for the Kansas City Monarchs, and had a major role in opening the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
Today, the YMCA on the Paseo belongs to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Officials there have long planned to turn it into the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center. They got a step closer to that goal this week, when the Kansas City, Mo. city council voted to allocate $500,000 to help restore the inside of the building.
Bob Kendrick is president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
"Now we've got a beautiful shell," he says. "But it is something the community has embraced and responded to, because they're taking pride in the fact that this old abandoned building that was an eyesore has become a beautiful swan now. And even though it's just a beautiful shell, it has totally transformed the community."
Still, Kendrick says there's much work to be done. The museum leaders first started talking about restoring the YMCA in the 1990s.
"It means several things for the museum. One of the things is we've outgrown our current home," Kendrick says. "The Buck O'Neil Education and Research Center gives us an opportunity now to function more as an institution, with an attraction."
The center will serve as a research facility to learn about the Negro Leagues in greater depth, for interested visitors, students, and scholars alike. It will also host additional exhibits for the museum. Kendrick hopes that it will be open in some capacity by next year, which is the 100th anniversary of the building.
As for the rest of the 18th and Vine district, Kendrick says it's heading in the right direction.
"It's all about patience," he says. "I don't think the commercial [development] is happening as fast as we'd all like."
Kendrick says that the district is a community, not just an entertainment area. The district needs housing and services to sustain that community before more commercial development comes in.