Are we excited about the latest prospect for downtown redevelopment?
We should be…If you’re not worked up already, I’ll try to get you in the mood to run out into the streets, yelling at the top of your voice.
The reason we need to bang all drums is that Julia Irene Kauffman, daughter of the late Muriel and Ewing Kauffman, is once again putting up big bucks to boost Kansas City.
Apparently not satisfied to let the awe-inspiring Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts stand as her only signature mark on Kansas City, the foundation that she heads and that bears her mother’s name is putting up a $20 million challenge grant to help move the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance to a site near the performing arts center.
If this comes to pass — and I definitely believe it will — it could make downtown Kansas City one of the nation’s top cities in terms of center-city artistic venues.
Don’t underestimate the impact of this move: It would be akin to the Unicorn Theatre catapulting to the level of the Missouri Rep, or the Missouri Mavericks hockey team (which plays in the 5,800-seat Independence Events Center) jumping to the National Hockey League. (Well, maybe not quite that big, but BIG, nevertheless.)
In 2011, The Star’s Kevin Collison wrote this: “Backers would expect the conservatory to achieve a top 10 ranking in the nation and attract 2,000 students within five years of opening the new campus.”
As it is, the conservatory has more than 700 students and staff and stages many public performances, at very reasonable admission prices, mostly at White Recital Hall, 4949 Cherry St., home of the Missouri Repertory Theatre.
Imagine more…and more elaborate…performances, still at reasonable prices, but downtown. That’s a key area where the public would benefit from this bold move.
In announcing the challenge grant on Wednesday — at the Kauffman Center, of course — Ms. Kauffman said:
“The conservatory is a vibrant community resource, and we believe the Downtown Arts Campus project has the potential to bring excitement and broad revitalized economic development to downtown, to the Kauffman Center and to other arts groups located downtown.”
Reporting on Ms. Kauffman’s announcement, Collison said two possible sites were under consideration. One is east of the Kauffman Center and covers two blocks from Wyandotte to Main, between 16th and 17th streets. The other includes sections of the blocks at the northwest and southeast corners of 17th and Broadway. The Kauffman Center is positioned right between those two sites.
As for the financing, here’s how that would work, as best I understand it.
It’s an $85 million to $90 million project. About half would come from the state, although the Missouri General Assembly has not yet allocated funds. The rest — another $40 million to $45 million — would be raised privately. With the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation putting up $20 million, that would mean private contributions of $20 million (the matching part) would make the project viable.
The corporate community can be expected to greet the challenge grant eagerly. The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce has been gung ho on the project for more than two years, having included it in its 2011 “Big 5” wish list for Kansas City. Other “Big 5” ideas include making Kansas City the nation’s most entrepreneurial city and significantly upgrading the inner city.
It’s safe to say that, among the five big ideas, moving the UMKC conservatory downtown is far and away the leader in the clubhouse.
This is a project that, if sold correctly, could attract a lot of money from people of average means, as well as from the usual, deep-pocketed corporate leaders.
Just tell me where to send the check.
OK, now, get out into the streets and start whooping and hollering, as if the Royals had just won the pennant.