The American Jazz Museum, plagued by operating losses and bounced checks to musicians, looks like it’s headed for a takeover by the city.
Kansas City Council members Jermaine Reed and Scott Wagner introduced an ordinance Thursday that asks officials to study the transfer of the museum to the Parks and Recreation Department by next spring.
The measure includes $225,000 to help the museum meet payroll, the second such emergency payment by the council this year.
The proposed takeover underscores the city’s continuing difficulties in transforming the 18th and Vine district into a self-sustaining center for music and culture in the hometown of Charlie Parker.
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The 20-year-old museum, which operates in a city-owned building but under an independent board, has been unable to raise the money necessary to stand on its own financially.
Wagner noted that museum has already spent its annual $500,000 city subsidy — about a third of its budget — for the fiscal year that ends next April 30.
Reed, a member of the museum board, sent a letter earlier this week to city and museum officials outlining a proposal to move the museum, the Blue Room and the Gem Theater to the Parks Department. It would be an arrangement similar to the agency’s oversight of the Kansas City Museum and the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Museum.
Reed said the city, which also owns the museum’s collection, has an obligation to safeguard its assets.
“It is clear business as usual will not suffice,” Reed said in a statement released shortly before introduction of the ordinance. “The Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners has a long history of full collaboration with neighborhood groups and business leaders in managing certain City-owned assets and tourist sites such as the Kansas City Zoo, the Liberty Memorial, Starlight Theatre and the Kansas City Museum.”
The American Jazz Museum’s financial difficulties were laid bare earlier this year when a jazz festival in May resulted in performers discovering that checks from the museum had bounced. At one point, performers were owed $150,000.
To meet payroll, the museum got an advance of $117,000 in city funds, extended its line of credit, and asked board members to chip in.
“They have issues of sustainability and economy. It can’t be ignored anymore,” said Wagner.
The ordinance calls for formation of a task force to study transfer of the museum to Parks and Recreation by next May.
Kansas City Manager Troy Schulte said there were no legal obstacles to a city takeover.
“It’s well within our framework,” he said, citing city management of Watkins Center and Kansas City Museum.
Schulte said the Jazz Museum was in a roughly $1 million hole: a $400,000 loss on the festival and unspecified amounts of overspending.
“I don’t see any impropriety,” Schulte said. “They just overspent.”
Museum executive director Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner did not return a phone message Thursday afternoon. Board Chair Anita Maltbia could not be reached for comment.