Backers of UMKC downtown arts campus court Muriel Kauffman Foundation for funding

Updated: 2013-05-06T15:32:08Z


The Kansas City Star

It’s been 22 months since the University of Missouri-Kansas City revealed an ambitious plan to relocate its Conservatory of Music and Dance to downtown Kansas City.

Two potential sites for what’s being billed as a downtown arts campus have been identified in the Crossroads Arts District and Peter Witte, chairman of the conservatory, has made the rounds to anyone who’ll listen championing the proposal that could bring more than 700 students and faculty downtown.

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce named the project to its “Big 5” list of community goals in 2011. But the word on the street up until recently had been the endeavor had not gained serious traction with the deep-pocket local philanthropists needed to make it work.

Backers want to identify at least $44 million in potential funding, about half the cost of the first phase, before “taking it to the next level.”

Last week, Dave Lady, president of the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation, said the organization is seriously considering helping the endeavor.

“It’s fair to describe it as we’re in a due diligence stage,” Lady said. “We continue to evaluate the opportunity. Thre’s a lot that’s unknown at this time.”

Julia Irene Kauffman, along with the foundation that bears her mother’s name, were the driving financial force behind the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts that opened in September 2011. Between them, more than $105 million was donated for the arts center.

From the beginning, advocates of relocating the conservatory downtown have said it had the potential of establishing the same kind of wonderful symbiotic relationship with the Kauffman Center as the Julliard School has with Lincoln Center in New York.

And both sites identified for the UMKC arts campus are close to the Kauffman Center.

One covers two blocks directly east of the performing arts center roughly between Wyandotte and Main streets from 16th to 17th streets. The other site would include sections of the blocks at the northwest and southeast corners of 17th Street and Broadway, also next to the Kaufman Center.

So it would make sense for the Muriel Kauffman Foundation to take the lead in helping a venture that would only enhance the value of both — and boost the diversity and vitality of downtown as well.

“It has the potential to be a really big project on so many different fronts,” Lady said.

He said no dollar amount has been identified for a potential donation from the foundation.

“A big piece is public support and public dollars,” Lady said. “There needs to be a move there before the private side gets excited.”

The Missouri General Assembly has approved legislation that would cover 50 percent of capital costs, but no funds have been allotted.

John Martellaro, a UMKC spokesman, declined to discuss specifics about fundraising for the downtown arts campus, saying it was premature.

“We are continuing to pursuing funding opportunities for that and these processes do take time and we remain confident this will become a reality,” he said.

To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to Follow him on Twitter @kckansascity

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