For now, financing for the state’s portion of a downtown arts campus adjacent to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is nothing more than a placeholder in the Missouri state budget.
During the legislative session’s final days, state lawmakers passed a budget that included $1 for the project before sending it on to the governor.
What might be possible now that the leading opponent of the arts campus doesn’t have veto power?
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As governor, Greitens was dismissive of the $96 million project, one of the top priorities for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
He vetoed legislation for the bonds to cover the state’s share of the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s planned downtown conservatory. That started a chain reaction.
Without a state funding match, UMKC had little choice but to adjust its plans. Meantime, a $20 million pledge from the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation was rescinded.
Kansas City’s philanthropic and educational community has regrouped and continued to press forward, just this month announcing the merger of the Conservatory of Music and Dance and the Department of Theatre.
Still, the line item, which could be increased to become more than a placeholder, remains. Greitens does not.
A spokesman for UMKC said: “We are continuing to explore all options for the new conservatory that we need.”
Might the original plan be dusted off and revisited? Nothing to report yet.
A spokesman for the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation declined to comment.
Legislation to fund the state’s share by issuing bonds was introduced in March by Rep. Noel J. Shull, a Republican from Clay County. The measure that was vetoed by Greitens had enjoyed bipartisan support.
Local leaders haven’t been idle while controversy swirled around Greitens. But conversations have shifted to possibly locating the facility on or near the UMKC campus.
Support for reviving the downtown option might be gauged after UMKC releases a request for interest to the philanthropic and developer community for the latest iteration of the project, a building that can accommodate the combined arts and theater programs.
The feedback from local philanthropists and developers no doubt will stand in sharp contrast to Greitens’ condescending assessment of the project. During a rare appearance in Kansas City, the then-governor made clear his lack of regard for higher education and the arts as a driver of economic development, calling a downtown arts campus a “building for dancers and artists.”
Perhaps local donors, who had generously contributed $48 million to match the state funding that never materialized, will have the last word.
It would be a shame if Missouri’s short-term governor managed to permanently derail a plan that could provide a long-term boost to downtown and the broader community.
As the university noted in an update from January: “Reports of the death of our UMKC Conservatory project are greatly exaggerated.”