City moves closer to purchasing King Records building

City committee passes a measure to allow use of eminent domain to purchase the King Records building in Evanston.

click to enlarge The former site of King Records in Evanston - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
The former site of King Records in Evanston

Cincinnati City Council took a new step toward saving the embattled former King Records building in Evanston Jan. 17. Council’s Budget and Finance Committee passed a measure that would allow the city to use eminent domain to purchase the building.

The measure, which could get final approval from Council as soon as Jan. 19, comes as the building’s owner, Dynamic Industries, has a demolition request on the property. The city is slated to hear that request Jan. 30.

“This is not a clear and cut case,” said Councilman Chris Seelbach, who said that the attempt to use eminent domain would have to survive a court battle. “We’re doing what we can to save the building. The journey is a longer journey rather than a shorter one.”

In 2015, the city declared the site a historic landmark in an attempt to save it from demolition. The building has also been recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and bears a plaque from the museum.

“We have a working group of citizens and nonprofits who for years have been refining a vision and plan to revive the King Records legacy in the original building if given the chance,” said Mayor John Cranley, who authored the legislation, in a statement. “Let's give them that chance. Hopefully, the owner will change his mind and withdraw this newest demolition effort and also accept the city's offer to purchase the building.”

A number of groups, including Evanston Community Council, The Bootsy Collins Foundation, Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation and King Studios group, have been working with the city to try and save the site of the historic recording company, which was one of the first integrated workplaces in the country as well as the home of a number of nationally known recording artists and hit records between 1943 and 1971.

In addition to the resolution enabling eminent domain, measures honoring three King Records musicians — Philip Paul, Otis Williams and Bootsy Collins — with street names in Evanston introduced by Councilwoman Yvette Simpson also passed the committee.

“King Records was quite unusual. Not because of the music, but because of the makeup of the workforce,” said Philip Paul, a legendary King musician. “It was like the United Nations. Everyone got along, and we tried to do our best. King Records had an aura of togetherness. I’m praying and asking you to finally pull this through. I think this is the second or third time I’ve come before Council asking what’s going to be done with King Records. I’m not bitter about it, I’m just ready to do something.”

Community leaders in Evanston say plans for a museum and educational facility on the site will give a big boost to the neighborhood.

“I’m so grateful to be here today, because in my heart I know there will be a positive change in regard to King Records,” said Evanston Community Council President Anzora Adkins, a 47-year resident of the neighborhood. “This is a big one. We really would like to see this soon.”

Council members voted unanimously to pass the motion.

“It’s sad that the owner wouldn’t work with the city to just sell the building,” said Councilman Kevin Flynn, who voted for the measure.

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