UMKC Downtown Arts Campus Inches Closer To State Funding

Mar 30, 2017

After hitting a high note last month with overwhelming approval in the Missouri House, the proposed University of Missouri-Kansas City downtown arts campus is scheduled to debut next week before a tougher audience, the Missouri Senate.

The $96 million project, which would relocate the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance to the block immediately south of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, is seeking $48 million in state bond funding to match private and city contributions already lined up.

Warren Erdman, the Kansas City civic leader leading the lobbying charge in Jefferson City, says the decisive majority the funding plan received from the House in mid-March — it was approved 117-39 — gives the proposal a “big lift” going into the Senate.

“This project is vitally important to Missouri and Kansas City,” Erdman says. “The UMKC Conservatory is the designated campus for performing arts in the University of Missouri System. This new facility is a statewide asset and not just UMKC.

“The Senate will be more complicated, but I’m hopeful and optimistic.”

Sen. Mike Kehoe, chairman of the rules committee, is spearheading the effort in the Senate with the support of the Kansas City area delegation. Kehoe expects the bonding proposal will win approval from his committee. A hearing is scheduled for April 4.

Kehoe, a Republican who represents a central Missouri district that includes Jefferson City, says the plan makes sense from a financial and cultural view.

“From a conservative standpoint, it’s a great investment for the state because it’s a 50-50 project,” he says. “Whenever the university can obtain an asset for half, it’s a fantastic deal for any business much less the state.

“The actual implication of what it means to the community is icing on the cake. Kansas City has proved it has a world-class conservatory.”

The bonding legislation is expected to be introduced to the full Senate for consideration in mid-April, Kehoe says. While optimistic, he and Erdman point out that under Senate rules it only takes one senator to hold up a vote on the measure.

Should the state funding be approved, downtown is still several years away from the debut of the proposed facility, says Bob Simmons, associate vice chancellor for facilities at UMKC. The project is proposed for the block between Broadway and Central Street, from 17th to 18th Streets.

Simmons says the university would need to receive title to the property from the city, and then design and build the facility. Helix Architecture + Design of Kansas City and HGA architects of Minneapolis are the architects, and Simmons estimates it will take about a year to complete the design.

It will then take two to three years to build. As with the neighboring Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, once the conservatory building is finished, the commissioning process, which includes fine-tuning the acoustics, is part of that construction timetable.

On another note, Erdman says the departure of one of the project’s most tireless advocates, Peter Witte, dean of the UMKC Conservatory, should not hamper its progress. Witte is leaving this summer for a new post as dean of the music conservatory at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif.

“The project stands on its own merits regardless of any individual dean or chancellor,” Erdman says.

Witte declined to comment.

KCUR is licensed to the University of Missouri Board of Curators and is an editorially independent community service of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Kevin Collison is a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3. You can reach him on Twitter @kckansascity.