Kansas Citians remember downtown before ground was broken for the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
It was an unremarkable plot of land, prime real estate but nothing particularly special.
Now, the graceful Kauffman Center draws visitors in as they near downtown, a visually stunning landmark in the center city. Its impact can be measured in dollars, in national recognition and in its cultivation of an appreciation for the arts among local residents and visitors.
There is pre-Kauffman. And post. And now a choice: Build on the area’s success in the arts. Or do not.
Kansas City recognizes the need to act now and continue that momentum. We hope our state’s governor does, too.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens could make a decisive statement by signing legislation approving funding for the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s downtown arts campus. This would allow the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance to relocate directly south of Kauffman. The site would offer students access not only to Kauffman’s world class performance halls, but also to the professional artists there. Their current spot on UMKC’s main campus doesn’t afford students such an opportunity.
By overwhelming majorities, both the Missouri House and Senate approved the measure that will allow the state to borrow $48 million through a bond issue. Securing Greitens’ signature is the final, essential step in a consequential public-private collaboration.
Kansas Citians pledged to come up with half the funding, with the expectation that the state would provide the rest. The area’s arts patrons, civic leaders and city officials worked together, raising their half of the funding for the downtown campus in relatively short order.
The arts are among Kansas City’s biggest employers when considered as one entity. The arts rank second only to HCA Midwest Health system but ahead of Sprint, St. Luke’s Health System and Cerner, according to calculations from the ArtsKC-Regional Arts Council, which included all local nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in its count.
That’s one reason a downtown arts campus was among the “Big 5” ideas chosen by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. The chamber understands arts as a driver of economic development.
This is the proverbial win-win. The $96 million downtown campus, as a part of the university system, would be state-owned. But it would benefit from the energy and stature of the Kansas City Ballet, the Kansas City Symphony, the Lyric Opera and the other performers who showcase their talents at Kauffman.
This could be a great moment for Kansas City and for the region. We need our governor to share in the success.