State funding for the University of Missouri-Kansas City Downtown Arts campus is back on the legislative agenda.
Missouri Rep. Noel Shull, a Republican from Kansas City, has reintroduced a bill that would fund half the cost of building and furnishing a downtown conservatory near the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. It's a plan that has long had community and bipartisan political support.
Shull's proposed bill calls for a plan similar to the one approved by Missouri legislators last year and then vetoed by Gov. Eric Greitens last June.
"I went ahead and reintroduced it because my sense is that there is still a lot of interest in allowing the downtown conservatory to move forward as planned," Shull said.
To pay for the $96 million arts campus, the former plan called for the state to issue up to $48 million in bonds in a 50-50 match program for capital projects UMKC had already raised $48 million for its share of the cost and was waiting on the state match when Greitens vetoed the plan.
Supporters of the plan said at the time they feared the veto would jeopardize the millions in pledges from private sources that the university had secured and the project would dissolve.
But University of Missouri System officials vowed to find the money without the state's help.
System officials said in a statement that they didn't want any additional taxpayer money to pay for a conservatory. Instead, they said, rather than seek funding from the state under the 50-50 matching program for capital projects, the university would "develop a plan to pay for it by making tough budget decisions and using private funds along with strong leaders in the Kansas City community."
Then in January a major donor for the project, The Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation, withdrew its $20 million pledge, a move that many said was a tremendous blow.
The downtown conservatory has been billed as a big boost to the cultural and economic development of downtown Kansas City and was one of the “Big 5” goals proposed by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce to remake Kansas City.
University system officials said it was too early in the bill process to say much about the newly introduced legislation. "But it does demonstrate the support received from the legislature and the value that higher education brings to the state," said Christian Basi, university spokesman.
At UMKC officials said they are grateful to the Missouri legislature, especially the Kansas City delegation, for support for a new facility for Conservatory of Music and Dance. "We are continuing to explore the array of options for a new facility that serve the critical academic and research needs of our students and faculty," UMKC officials said in a statement emailed to The Star.
Shull's proposed bill calls for the state to kick in $50 million for the downtown campus. He's not sure just yet how successful the bill is likely to be this time around, "We are just starting to work on that."
He declined to say how legislators plan to gain the support of the governor who last month was indicted by a St. Louis grand jury on a felony charge of invasion of privacy.
The charge against him stems from a 2015 affair and allegations that Greitens took nude photos of the woman while she was bound and blindfolded and threatened to release them if she ever spoke publicly about the affair.
Despite calls for him to step down, Gov. Greitens has refused and has denied doing anything criminal. His attorney has said the charges are baseless.
Since then House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, announced that lawmakers would be conducting their own investigation of Greitens, a move some say could be the first step toward impeachment proceedings.