Put UMKC's arts campus in Crossroads, not Barney Allis Plaza
The Kansas City Star
The idea of creating a downtown arts campus for the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s music, dance and theater programs is both practical and visionary.
The classroom and performance space currently used by UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, on the Volker campus, is outdated and unable to meet the needs of the emerging program. But the university hasn’t made headway in raising funds either from the state of Missouri or private donors to upgrade the facilities.
A move downtown to new and improved facilities would be expected to jump-start interest and dollars.
A relocated UMKC performing arts program would have an impact on more than just the university and its students. An infusion of up to 700 creative students, faculty and staffers would energize Kansas City’s downtown and create an appealing synergy with the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and other nearby venues.
But UMKC’s plan is as ambitious as it is attractive, and formidable obstacles will have to be overcome.
A study released this week estimated the cost of the multi-phase, 20-year project favored by UMKC at $165.5 million. Even the first phase, a 171,000-foot UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance, is expected to cost $88.2 million.
Clearly, the university needs to show a well-designed plan for raising that amount of money. Officials have pledged to have it in place by the end of the summer. That will give a clearer idea of the depth of support for the concept.
The Missouri legislature passed a bill this year which, among other things, creates a “higher education capital fund.” It allows the General Assembly to appropriate money to provide matching funds for capital projects at public universities, providing that the schools have raised half of the money through private funds.
But the usefulness of that state fund is by no means assured. There is no guarantee that money will actually find its way into the fund, or that lawmakers will approve financing for the specific program.
Another study commissioned by UMKC recommended three prospective sites for an arts campus.
Two of the locations put the proposed campus in the Crossroads Arts District, right next to the Kauffman Center, which should be the goal.
The lively Crossroads district would have much more appeal to students than the third proposed location, at Barney Allis Plaza. That site, in the midst of hotels and convention facilities, would squander an opportunity to develop synergy with the Kauffman Center and the arts district.
It is good to see the thinking on this promising idea beginning to jell. A realistic assessment of fundraising possibilities is the next step.