How to fix KC's fountains
The Kansas City Star
Kansas City’s signature fountains are points of pride for this region, helping create a positive image for the city nationally and internationally. They are distinguishing features that delight not just tourists but many longtime residents, year after year.
And they are worth repairing with a combination of public and private funds, a new effort that’s at the early stages of development. Kansas Citians must respond proactively when pumps stop working, concrete cracks and bronze statues deteriorate.
These amenities must be protected for future generations.
Maintaining and repairing all of the city’s 48 fountains should be high priorities for public funding through the annual city budget. All too often, that hasn’t happened — not just recently but going back for a quarter century.
Enter the latest promising plan to deal with this issue: The City of Fountains Foundation wants to ask the private sector to help finance up to $2.5 million in major repairs for eight fountains while working on a long-term funding plan to help fix others as they get older.
One idea worth pursuing is seeking private sponsors to adopt each fountain, funnel in funds to help operate it and in return receive public credit for that civic good deed. Two near the Country Club Plaza’s eastern entrance — the Seville Light Fountain at J.C. Nichols Parkway and 47th Street and the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain across the street — would be excellent candidates for this kind of corporate funding.
A model for this idea comes from the Parks and Recreation Department’s successful partnerships with businesses and foundations to maintain and repair several city parks. The best known example features the Ward Family Foundation, which has given millions of dollars to beautify Loose Park south of the Plaza. It also helps maintain another urban park.
The City of Fountains Foundation hopes to kick off fundraising efforts at its 40th anniversary in June. That gives foundation supporters — and City Hall — time to put together a compelling narrative for how a public/private sector approach could keep the city’s fountains in top shape.
Previously, fountain lovers have gone around hat-in-hand and had some success in prevailing on businesses and residents to provide cash for immediately needed repairs. But it’s time for a sustainable public/private effort to tackle the troubles.
As the new proposal takes shape, it will have a better chance of success if potential corporate partners and neighborhood residents who might be willing to participate know exactly how much skin the city has in the game.
Right now, it’s not enough. The city’s general fund could be tapped for $250,000 in fountain repairs according to the proposed 2013-14 city budget. That’s barely 10 percent of required repairs to just the eight structures needing the most work right now. The Parks and Recreation Department says it has set aside $650,000 to handle routine fountain maintenance and operation, but does not have a budget for restoring the amenities.
To encourage private donations, City Hall must show that protecting fountains is a high priority, as it must be. That could include carving out some of the parks budget for repairs and using more general fund capital improvements funds for this important cause.
The city’s fountains are crumbling faster than they can be fixed. Tapping into Kansas Citians’ love of these amenities — with the help of businesses, neighborhood organizations and residents — could ensure a brighter future for them.