The county’s latest plan for the former King Louie bowling alley got a boost last week as the Johnson County Commission approved $150,000 for a concept plan and more precise estimates of its cost.
Supporters of the newest plan, introduced month, turned out in force to speak in favor of converting the distinctive building at 8788 Metcalf Ave., into space for the Johnson County Museum, early voting and arts and theater programming from the county Park and Recreation Department.
The $150,000 allows the county to proceed further with what may be a $22.2 million project. The concept plan money will be transferred from a fund already in place for relocating the museum and does not call for new spending.
The spending was approved 4-3, with commissioners John Toplikar, Jason Osterhaus and Michael Ashcraft voting against.
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About 35 people came to the commission’s first spending vote on the King Louie idea. None spoke against the plan. Ben Craig, steering committee chairman for the Overland Park Historical Society, asked whether the county would consider sharing some of the unallocated space in the building with his group so that Overland Park’s history could be displayed.
The Overland Park historical group has considered locating in a building in that city’s old downtown now occupied by Traditions Furniture, Craig said. But the furniture store has no immediate plans to move out, and converting the space there would require considerable expense, he said. The King Louie building, if it is approved, would be ready in late 2016 or early 2017.
Nicole Emanuel, founder of the nonprofit InterUrban ArtHouse in Overland Park, assured the commission that the new space would not compete with her efforts to set up affordable work space for local artists. “This beautifully complements what we’re doing,” she said.
The latest King Louie proposal has been controversial with some voters, and county facilities manager Joe Waters took pains to answer some of their criticisms during a brief presentation. The objections concerned the appraisal of the property, which the county bought in 2011 for about $2 million and has spent $1.6 million more stabilizing.
According to the report, the property would be most attractive to a buyer as vacant land for redevelopment. Appraisers put the value of the property at $1.25 million, but it would cost about $400,000 to raze the building, leaving the as-is value at around $850,000.
The appraisal report also said the building shell was inadequate for its current use, but Waters explained that the current use is as a family bowling alley/ice rink. The county has successfully repurposed other buildings, such as the justice annex and NewCentury Air Center fieldhouse, he said.
“There is a time and a place for adaptive reuse and with the right application it will save money,” he said.
The building is expected to generate revenue from rental fees from theater groups and others.
He also reassured the commission that the building is structurally sound.
Commission Chairman Ed Eilert, a longtime champion of the King Louie plan, agreed. “The county did not purchase this property to remove the structure, but to use the building,” Eilert said.
Some on the commission remained skeptical. Toplikar asked why no mention was made during Waters’ presentation of the first plan for the building — a large-scale museum of suburbia. That idea eventually lost steam and was replaced by a multi-use plan including the county museum, early voting and office space for the Enterprise Center. The multi-use plan also died.
“It looked like to me the museum of suburbia was a bust and that was driving a whole lot of this,” Toplikar said. “The building became a space in search of a cause … then became a building in search of programming. Now it’s a building in search of special interest groups to save the losses it has accumulated.”
“In my opinion and in a lot of my constituents’’ opinions, creating art is not an essential function of government and that is what we’re talking about here,” Toplikar said.
Osterhaus, whose district is entirely in Overland Park, said after the meeting that he voted against it because it would have been cheaper to have county staff do the concept plan, rather than hiring outside professionals. However he said he also leans against the larger plan because theater and programming space is already available at MidAmerica Nazarene University, Johnson County Community College and, eventually, at the Lenexa Civic Center when it is finished.
Toplikar also questioned whether the mold problem at the Johnson County Museum is “mostly hype.” The county has been looking for new space for its museum collection for years because of water damage and mold at its current location in Shawnee. Officials set up air quality monitors there last year as a stopgap measure after failing to completely eliminate mold from between the walls.
Outgoing Commissioner Ed Peterson praised the King Louie plan, noting that the county museum space has been a problem since he first took office 12 years ago. He also noted that during that time the county has spent millions on public safety, building a jail, crime lab and communications center.
“I think it’s time we began to pay some attention to the cultural needs and historical heritage we enjoy,” he said.
He also said the better space at King Louie would allow the museum to display more of its collection.
Commissioners sworn in
Former Prairie Village Mayor Ron Shaffer was sworn in Monday as the new 1st District county commissioner, replacing Ed Petersen, who ran unsuccessfully for county chairman. Shaffer served on the Prairie Village City Ccouncil from 1989 to 1999 and then as mayor until this year.
Re-elected commissioners Chairman Ed Eilert, Jason Osterhaus and Michael Ashcraft also were sworn in.