County commission says no to bonds for King Louie work

11/16/2013 2:45 PM

11/16/2013 2:47 PM

Johnson County Museum officials will have to start over in finding a new home for the museum, now that the county commission has decided against issuing $10.3 million in bonds to pay for remodeling work at the former King Louie bowling alley.

“We’re going to have to go back to the drawing board figuring out a location for the museum. I would have loved for it to have been at King Louie,” said the museum’s director, Mindi Love.

County commissioners, acting as the Public Building Commission, voted 4-3 against publishing their intent to issue the bonds. It would have been the first step in the process of moving several county offices into the building. Commissioners Steve Klika, Jason Osterhaus, Michael Ashcraft and John Toplikar voted against it.

The vote leaves in question the future location of the museum and what will become of the distinctive King Louie building at 8788 Metcalf Ave. in Overland Park. One commissioner, Jason Osterhaus, suggested the county reconsider plans for the building in a year, after the museum has had more time for private fund-raising.

The vote doesn’t necessarily kill the King Louie remodel, but it makes its future much more doubtful. Steve Klika, who joined the commission this year, began to tilt the balance against the plan in August when he suggested the county cut its losses and sell the building, with proceeds going to a new courthouse.

Commissioners Michael Ashcraft, Jason Osterhaus and John Toplikar also have been firmly in the skeptics column.

The county bought the King Louie building in December 2011 for $2 million and has put another $1.6 million into repairs to stabilize it. It’s been vacant since 2009.

Originally, the commission considered developing an ambitious museum of suburbia in that space, but the idea drew a fair amount of public criticism. That idea eventually died but commissioners still had plans to move the county museum in 2017 from its home in Shawnee.

The museum has been plagued with mold and a wet basement, and also needs more space and parking, supporters say.

Love and seven or eight museum supporters attended the commission meeting Thursday, some of them wearing black and white buttons to show their solidarity.

Larry Meeker, chairman of the Johnson County Museum Foundation Board, asked commissioners to consider the distinctive building part of the county’s unique architectural heritage. The big space and high ceiling would have been particularly suited to stage the all-electric house exhibit, he said.

Meeker also pointed out that museum attendance has dramatically increased the past few years. In 2007, attendance was around 9,000, compared with 30,000 last year, he said.

Mary Tearney, a Leawood teacher, said the museum is a valuable resource for education. “It’s an opportunity to use a great facility to help educate our students,” she said.

The commission also had planned to move some other county services into the King Louie. The Enterprise Center, a county-subsidized agency to encourage entrepreneurs, might have moved there, saving about $250,000 a year in rent payments. The commission also considered using the space for advanced voting and for transit service.

Chairman Ed Eilert called the museum an “important community asset. I think anybody who’s been to our current property knows there are limitations.”

Ashcraft agreed the King Louie space is good for those functions. “But these are almost after-the-fact strategies,” he said.

Ashcraft said the county could probably get at least what it paid for the building if it decided to sell and perhaps a little profit. The proceeds could go to pay off short-term debt and possibly to other programs, such as services to the developmentally disabled.

After the vote, Eilert said the commission would need to decide what comes next for the building. “If one anticipates a windfall off the sale — that is problematic,” he said.

Osterhaus said he doesn’t necessarily favor selling it, and suggested the commission take another look at uses for it in a year.

However Commissioner Ed Peterson pointed out that would be too late to move the Enterprise Center before its lease is up.

Klika suggested a task force to “evaluate the ramifications of this vote and our options.”

However the meeting broke up without any specifics on that.

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