Government & Politics

UMKC downtown arts campus: Missouri Senate committee debates bill

The UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance would be built on the western edge of the Crossroads Arts District, just south of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
The UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance would be built on the western edge of the Crossroads Arts District, just south of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. HGA/Helix

A bill that would allocate state funding to the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s proposed downtown arts campus had its first Senate committee hearing Tuesday.

If the measure wins approval, the state would be authorized to borrow $48 million to help build the new arts campus adjacent to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The state money would match $48 million raised by private donors.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, a Jefferson City Republican who is sponsoring the bill on the Senate side, said the private funding makes the new arts center a smart financial move for the state, which would own the facility.

“So you’re going to be able to put an asset on your balance sheet for half the price,” Kehoe said.

But the bill could face opposition from Senate Republicans who think the state should not take on additional debt during a budget shortfall.

State Sen. Bill Eigel, a Weldon Spring Republican, questioned whether it is in the state’s best interest to fund the campus while lawmakers are struggling to pay for K-12 education, road repairs and Veterans Affairs.

“What can I tell the residents from my district in St. Charles County as the motivation to set aside all those other necessary things in order to fund another campus in Kansas City?” Eigel asked. “I’m struggling making that connection.”

The university’s chancellor, Leo Morton, traveled to the Capitol on Tuesday to testify in support of the bill, saying its benefits would span the state.

“We have alumni in all 114 counties of this state,” Morton said. “They are serving in your middle schools to teach music, they are leading the high school bands, they are also singing and playing the organs in your churches.”

Kansas City Manager Troy Schulte said the new center could spur statewide economic growth.

“It is a tremendous economic development tool for the state of Missouri and Kansas City in general,” Schulte said. “We think it can be a fundamental change agent for the entire state as a whole. We want it to be perceived as the Juilliard of the west.”

Several others traveled from Kansas City to support the bill: Charlie Shield, a former state senator representing the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce; Scott Smith, chairman of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City; and Warren Erdman, an officer at Kansas City Southern Railways.

The rules committee did not vote on the bill Tuesday.

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