Leavenworth Preservationists have saved a ballroom that Bob Hope once graced, a bar that prohibitionist Carry Nation once visited and 36 other historic buildings on the sprawling veterans' hospital campus.
The buildings were marked for demolition in 2000 because they no longer were needed and were expensive to maintain. But a group of preservationists stepped in and fought for their survival.
Their efforts were rewarded Monday when federal officials and lawmakers gathered in Leavenworth to sign an agreement that will allow a private developer to restore the buildings, some of which date back to the late 1800s. The buildings will serve a new generation of veterans.
The deal, which has a $70 million price tag for renovation, allows Eisenhower Ridge Assn. to lease the buildings for free over the next 75 years.
The Topeka-based group plans to restore the buildings and rent them. About 40 percent of the renovation work will qualify for state and federal tax credits. The buildings also are exempt from taxes because the government retains ownership.
VA officials want most, if not all, of the future tenants to be compatible with the campus' mission.
The plan, for instance, calls for two domiciliary buildings to be turned into transitional housing for veterans leaving the drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic at the Leavenworth campus.
"There are a lot of guys that would like to stay nearby," Eisenhower Ridge Assn. President Ross Freeman said.
The project has attracted the attention of preservationists across the country.
"We hope that Leavenworth can be used as a tool by the VA," said Jonathan Kemper, chairman of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and one of many preservationists who attended the ceremonial lease signing.