Lenexa truss art project lingers in limbo

12/24/2013 4:54 PM

12/24/2013 4:54 PM

It was supposed to be a proud testament to Lenexa’s support of the arts, a sip of lemonade squeezed from the lemon of a failed metal truss for traffic signals.

But in the year since its announcement, plans for a sculpture by Kansas City artist Stretch to be made from the truss have gone quietly on a back burner, and the truss, now the subject of a lawsuit against the firm that designed it, is in storage.

Stretch, whose given name is Jeff Rumaner, said the city officials who had formerly been enthusiastic have now indicated that the time is not right to go ahead with the sculpture, which he had offered to create for a deeply discounted price.

“They were all about it,” he said of the city officials. “Then they just kind of walked away. It’s weird.”

Beccy Yocham, Lenexa’s community development director, said the project is not dead.

“We are still interested in repurposing the failed truss as art, but we have other priorities that are more pressing at this time,” she said. “We have a lot of other things going on at City Center right now, so the project is on hold,” she said in an emailed response to questions about the truss. There never was any timeline for the project, she said.

For over a year the damaged truss sat beside the intersection of 87th Street and Renner Boulevard. The decorative metal work, from which traffic lights would be hung, broke during installation.

Stretch, whose wife’s family lives in the area, said he noticed the truss on a trip through town and began to play with the idea of a sculpture.

In October 2012, he presented the city’s Arts Council with a proposal: The truss would be mounted vertically to create 60-foot by 100-foot tall monument at the entrance to City Center. It would include translucent Plexiglas panels and programmable LED lights. The sculpture would take about three months to complete and the city would only pay $50,000 — for materials, fabrication and a design fee.

Normally, a project like that could cost as much as $400,000, Stretch said.

The city council discussed the idea at its November 2012 meeting, and considered opening up the process for other proposals, but never formally approved Stretch’s idea.

But the plan may have been complicated when a few weeks later, the city planning commission began reviewing another proposal by Stretch — this one for a Grinders restaurant at the former Stonewall Inn at 103rd Street and Pflumm Road.

That plan ran into vocal objection from nearby residential neighbors, who worried that Stretch was planning to host outdoor music concerts similar to those in his Grinders location at the Crossroads. Many of those neighbors showed up to protest at a city council meeting in February, saying the noise, late hours and parking issues would disrupt the family atmosphere of the neighborhood.

Stretch maintained that his only plans were for occasional small outdoor presentations, such as those that might occur after a charity bike ride. There will be no outdoor concerts, he said.

The city eventually approved a modified proposal for Grinders, and Stretch said he plans to open in April. “I go into neighborhoods and make them better,” he said, referring to his Crossroads location. “We’re not just renting. We’re going in it for 30, 40, 50 years.

“Once people see what we’re about, I think everything will be fine.”

But Stretch’s Grinders proposal may have had an impact on plans for the truss sculpture. He said a city staffer told him pursuing the sculpture project might give the wrong appearance that the city is favoring any particular applicant.

Yocham said the city has been more focused on getting some big developments done at the City Center development near that intersection. The development, a walkable New Urbanism-style downtown, has been in the works for a decade and has cost millions in public spending on streets and lighting.

A couple of years ago, the development appeared stalled, but lately there has been some movement.

For instance, the city council recently approved plans for a 127-room, six-story Hyatt Place hotel and a 12,000-square-foot conference center. That plan also includes a 6,500-square-foot “upper-end” restaurant that will undergo a separate approval process. The Hyatt Place would be built on the east side of Ryckert Street in City Center East Village.

And the council approved plans and set a Jan. 7 public hearing date for a special taxing district for the Domain at City Center, a 200-plus luxury four-story apartment building with a five-story attached garage to go in at Renner and 87th.

Road work also is continuing, she said. Construction of 89th Street and Penrose Lane, plus part of Hampton Street north of 89th Street, is expected to be done no later than June. Those roads provide access to Perceptive Software’s new headquarters, set to open in late spring or early summer next year.

But in the meantime, drivers will have to put up with temporary traffic lights at 87th Street and Renner for a while longer. The city has sued the firm that designed the troubled truss, claiming breach of contract against TranSystem Corp. of Kansas City. The suit seeks to determine who will pay for the failed truss and replacement, since the old truss was determined to be beyond repair.

A replacement truss is in the works and should be up by next summer, Yocham said.

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