Recently, the University of Missouri System announced it would develop alternate plans to match $48 million in local and private pledges for a new downtown UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance that would address accreditation issues at its current facilities. The system will not seek support from the state of Missouri.
The important thing now is to make sure this alternate plan for funding the state match is done in a way that does not impose unreasonable financial stress on the UMKC campus.
UMKC is designated as the University of Missouri System’s campus for the performing arts. Founded in 1906, the conservatory is globally recognized. It has been praised by The New York Times as “one of the country’s liveliest academies.”
It has a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and four Guggenheim Fellows. It trains performers for Missouri’s important tourism economy, teachers and music therapists.
The conservatory is a center of excellence for the UM System, in spite of its current inadequate facilities. Its accrediting body, the National Association of Schools of Music, has expressed serious concerns about its outdated, undersized and inadequate existing facilities, concluding that “it does not appear that the facilities are sufficient to support the faculty needs, all curricular offerings, and all students enrolled in them.”
The space was built for 300 students. Today’s enrollment is 543. Something must be done.
A new conservatory facility next to the internationally renowned Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, where the land has been acquired, cleared and is ready to break ground, would benefit the entire state of Missouri. According to Americans for the Arts, cultural and arts tourism generates $1.1 billion in annual economic activity in Missouri, over 33,000 jobs and about $110 million in local and state government revenue every year.
Local leaders worked hard to raise $48 million in private pledges to fund half of the project. Donors included the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation, which pledged $20 million. Other philanthropic foundations and private citizens have pledged their financial support as well.
The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce made the project a Big 5 priority for Kansas City, and it enjoys the support of many other local organizations.
Realizing Missouri is not able to fund its match through a capital appropriation using the state’s 50-50 match program for such projects, Kansas City leaders worked with the Missouri General Assembly to pass legislation authorizing revenue bonds to match the local and private money. It passed overwhelmingly, with 117 votes in the House and 28 in the Senate. It would have provided a tool to provide the state’s match for the project over time, subject to future debt service appropriations.
Kansas City is very grateful to the many legislators who worked hard to pass this solution.
Unfortunately, Gov. Eric Greitens vetoed the legislation, in spite of overwhelming support from the legislature.
Now it’s up to the University System and governor to make sure the alternate plan they propose is implemented without imposing unreasonable financial stress on the UMKC campus.
They are accountable.
Warren K. Erdman is a curator emeritus with the University of Missouri System.