Tuesday, Aug. 21 2012 4:36PM
Council to pay bills for Arnold Hall
Architectural services unpaid after fundraising for building
BY Russ Pulley
The volunteer board of the Lee’s Summit Municipal Building Authority can breathe easier because the City Council agreed in principle to cover the authority’s bills.
A question had risen whether the authority members could personally be on the hook for a total of $61,250.35 owed to an architectural firm and an accounting firm.
The City Council on Aug. 16 assigned the Budget Committee the task of finding money to pay those bills.
The debt was incurred as part of fund-raising efforts to refurbish Arnold Hall as home for the Martin City Melodrama and other cultural arts activities. That project foundered when efforts to obtain tax credits through the Missouri Development Finance Board failed. The credits, valued at $1.2 million to $1.5 million, were the footing for $4.5 million needed for the project. The authority had commitments for other donations, contingent on getting the tax credits, said Brad Cox, chairman of the authority. The work by the firms was necessary to apply for the tax credits, Cox said.
But once the application was rejected and the economy faltered, so did fundraising for Arnold Hall.
Cox asked the City Council to provide a grant to the authority to pay the bills so new proposals for Arnold Hall would be clear for consideration without debt clouding the issues.
The city’s Cultural Arts Task Force is considering using that structure as home for the Lee’s Summit Historical Society, exhibit space or other uses.
Councilmember Brian Whitley asked what ramifications faced the city if the authority defaulted on the debt and on how it might affect the authority.
Cox said it depended on how the City Council reacted. If the volunteer’s good reputations were “besmirched” because the council wouldn’t back them up, it would be harder for the city to find volunteers in the future. Cox said the authority board members also are concerned they might be individually held responsible for the debt.
City Manager Steve Arbo noted the debt is not a legal obligation of the city.
Going forward the authority, Arbo said, the authority would have the last experience as “part of its history” and wouldn’t get into a similar problem. Arbo said city staff wanted to return the authority’s purpose to that of managing the facility such as scheduling or hearing requests for its use, but not fundraising.
Whitley said he didn’t want to spook board members or volunteers, but also didn’t want to vote on paying the debt until the council decided which fund it would use for the payments.
Councilmember Rob Binney said the city obviously has either liability or moral obligation to cover the bills. He asked if the prior work now has any value to the Cultural Arts Task Force.
Cox said part of the research done would be useful to the task force.
The board reached consensus to pay the debt but assigned it to the Budget Committee for further consideration.
“The ground literally shifted on them in the process,” Councilmember Allan Gray said. “I’m not willing to leave them holding the bag on this.”