Singer David Lee Brewer plans to buy Nick Chiles’ Topeka buildings
International opera singer and vocal coach David Lee Brewera relative of Topeka’s first newspaper publisher, Nick Chiles, intends to purchase the aging buildings in downtown Topeka.
The historic buildings were where Chiles published one of the most widely read black newspapers in the country.
June is the target date for the purchase, Brewer told the Capital-Journal on Monday.
The owner of the properties – AIM Strategies LLC, a development company led by Topekan Cody Foster – has put demolition plans on hold as it gives Brewer time to secure financing, Foster told the Capital-Journal.
David Lee Brewer will tour the buildings in March
Brewer, who lives in Berlin, Germany, said he plans to join a tour of the properties, located at 112-114, 116 and 118 SE 7th, in early March.
He said he intended the buildings to be used for educational purposes as part of the Nick Chiles Institute, a school he plans to develop for the arts, culinary arts, entrepreneurship and business. social empowerment.
Brewer and the investors involved in the effort are also investigating several other potential sites in Topeka, including the downtown Topeka post office at 424 S. Kansas Ave., he said.
Brewer said he was represented in Topeka by real estate broker Lance Royer, which Royer confirmed.
Brewer contacted The Capital-Journal of Moscow, where he said he was finishing an album featuring students he teaches.
Nick Chiles published the Topeka Plaindealer
Chiles edited and published the Topeka Plaindealer from 1899 until his death at age 61 in 1929. The Plaindealer had the largest circulation of any black newspaper west of the Mississippi River.
“Chiles has developed a reputation for timely and thought-provoking editorials on topics of concern to African Americans in Topeka, around Kansas, and across state lines,” the Kansas Historical Society website said.
The Plaindealer was published from 1899 to 1958, making it the oldest black newspaper in the United States, the site added.
He said that although Chiles was supposed to operate a saloon in the basement of his hotel, he felt sympathy for the axe-wielding saloon breaker Carrie Nation, who came to Topeka in 1901.
“When she was arrested while campaigning in Topeka, Chiles provided bail money,” the site said. “The two joined a brief partnership and published ‘The Smasher’s Mail’, which she edited. After three issues, the partnership ended.”‘
AIM Strategies bought buildings in hopes of restoring them
AIM Strategies purchased the buildings from Chiles in late 2017 in hopes of restoring them, Foster said.
The purchase was made basically “because I was tired of watching them fall into disrepair”, he said.
But after concluding that restoration would cost at least $10 million, AIM Strategies last year announced plans to demolish all three structures and rebuild on the same site.
The proposed new building would face west toward the adjacent exterior Evergy Plaza, which opened in 2020 at the northeast corner of S. 7th and Kansas Avenue. It would include an open-air museum with interactive elements showcasing the life of Chiles.
AIM Strategies discussed its plans last year at a meeting of the Topeka Landmarks Commission, although that body did not consider allowing the buildings to be demolished.
Permission from the Topeka city government would be required for demolition because the buildings are part of the South Kansas Avenue Commercial Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.
Two were built around 1880 and the other around 1888, according to the application submitted to obtain this distinction.
Facebook group points to black business losses in Topeka
Opponents of the demolition maintain a “Save Nick Chiles’s Buildings” Facebook page, where they are seeking signatures on a petition asking the Mayor and Topeka City Council to stop the demolitions, should such a proposal come before them.
The page features a video message from Brewer, which was posted on October 14.
“We ask for your help, your interest in joining us in saving history and doing what Nick Chiles would have wanted, which is to conserve these buildings for the empowerment and upliftment of young Topekans,” he said. he declared.
The Facebook site’s petition notes that downtown Topeka was once home to many thriving black businesses, many of which have been razed and replaced as a result of urban renewal.
The petition says: “Over the years, much of downtown, and Topeka in general, has highlighted the contributions of many white people with statues and plaques in front of buildings, but has ignored the black contractors who have builds the progress of our city.”
This petition had 364 signatures on Monday.