Armed with $48 million in private funds, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and its supporters will need to aggressively lobby for matching public funds to build the new Downtown Campus for the Arts.
Kansas City’s civic and public officials must be part of the team asking the Missouri legislature in 2017 to help finance the campus south of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
The University of Missouri Board of Curators on Friday voted to request state funds to match the $48 million that UMKC raised over three years for the $96 million project.
The funds from the state would come from the Higher Education Capital Fund, created in 2012 to match public funds to private gifts. The request from the Coordinating Board for Higher Education would be placed into an appropriations bill in the 2017 session. It could be the largest amount sought from the fund. The effort to get the money may have to be done over several years.
The new campus would be on the block bounded by 17th and 18th streets and Broadway and Central Street. When finished, it would replace several outdated and disconnected facilities on the Volker campus, providing state-of-the-art practice and classroom space for about 620 students and 110 faculty members.
It would be a stunning addition to the Crossroads Arts District, boosting the appeal of the central business district to the Crown Center area. The project was among the “Big Five” civic priorities of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. Chamber officials this week pledged their support for this crucial project. However, as senior vice president Kristi Wyatt noted, “This is not going to be easy.”
That’s probably an understatement.
Rural versus urban factions in the Republican-controlled Missouri legislature will pose the usual concerns on getting the measure passed, as will competing interests of Kansas City and St. Louis area lawmakers.
The University of Missouri System didn’t make many friends in the General Assembly in 2016. The system endured months of legislative criticism and threats of cuts in state funding over how the Columbia campus handled black student protests last fall in what they called an indifference to racism at MU.
The Kansas City chamber, the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City and other groups also didn’t win a lot of Jefferson City love this year when their representatives successfully lobbied against Senate Joint Resolution 39 at the Capitol.
That unneeded bill would have amended the Missouri Constitution to allow discrimination against same-sex couples in providing services or goods for marriages or other celebrations. City and chamber officials were right to fear the loss of conventions, sporting contests, talent and tourism if the measure passed.
Kansas City’s political and business leaders also opposed some outstate lawmakers and multimillionaire Rex Sinquefield when they tried to eliminate the city’s 1 percent earnings tax. Fortunately, the efforts in Jefferson City failed. And in April, Kansas City voters easily renewed the tax.
The 2017 session doesn’t begin until January. That gives local boosters of the arts campus time to develop a strategy for mending fences with state lawmakers to fund what will be a cultural tourism gem downtown.
UMKC and Kansas City’s leaders did their part in raising $48 million. Now it’s up to public officials to do theirs and help make possible an educational facility that would benefit the city and state.