The former King Louie bowling alley cleared its final hurdle last week toward becoming the new home of the Johnson County Museum and performance space for local arts groups.
With approval of the sale of $21.5 million in bonds, the county commission put money in the pipeline to convert the vacant building at 8788 Metcalf Ave. into the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center.
The center will become the new home of the Johnson County Museum, currently in Shawnee. The museum’s 1950’s All-Electric House will also be relocated to a spot inside the building. In addition, Theater in the Park will use the space for cool-weather performances and space will be available through the county Park and Recreation District for arts groups and for other theater groups.
Commissioners approved the bond sale 4-2, with Commissioner Michael Ashcraft abstaining. Commission Chairman Ed Eilert and commissioners Ron Shaffer, Steve Klika and Jim Allen voted in favor. Commissioners Jason Osterhaus and John Toplikar cast the “no” votes.
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Approval of the bonds was the final decision in what has been a long and often controversial process. The commission bought the distinctive accordion-roofed building in 2011 for $2 million, but because it had been unoccupied since 2009, it needed extensive repairs to keep it from further deteriorating.
The purchase of the building and the initial plan for a National Museum of Suburbia, coming at the end of a deep recession, drew voter criticism. The national museum plan was eventually scrapped. A subsequent multi-use plan for the county museum and office space died when the commission couldn’t muster enough votes to issue the necessary bonds.
After months of little or no action and a continuing problem with mold at the museum’s current location, county officials came up with a plan to use the building for arts and theater groups and an expanded museum space. The park district will run the space, leasing it to various arts and community groups. Income from the space rental and perhaps an admission charge for the county museum are intended to sustain the building and programs.
Commissioners took the vote with little discussion, referring listeners to taped archives of extensive debate at past public hearings and other meetings. Some said they were pleased with the 3.36 percent interest rate and the fact that the county maintained its AAA bond rating with Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s bond rating agencies.
The grand opening is expected to be in the spring of 2017, but the building may be partly open for advance voting in August 2016.
Park and Recreation director Jill Geller and museum director Mindi Love, both on hand for the vote, said they were pleased and excited to move forward with the plans. Now that funding is approved, their staffs can focus on design changes and the logistics of the move, they said.
“This will be a great new facility for the county for our exhibitions and learning about the county’s history but also for bringing the fine arts to the community through parks,” Love said.
There will be no changes in the near future on museum hours, Love said.