Thursday, Dec. 06 2012 5:13PM
LS Bond issue proposal goes to City Council
Committee suggests renovating historic post office for museum
By Russ Pulley
A City Council subcommittee voted to recommend a revised cultural arts package to Lee’s Summit voters in April 2013 and added a $2 million street project.
The recommendation is:
• $1.6 million for enhancing the Legacy Park amphitheater
• $660,000 to renovate a 1939 post office to be a museum and home for the Lee’s Summit Historical Society
• $600,000 for an outdoor festival space off Market Street in downtown, which is near the post office and will include a performance stage
• $2 million to add paved shoulders to Pryor Road
The total is about $4.86 million.
Left off the recommendation decided at the committee’s Dec. 4 meeting were replacement of an aging fire station and cardiac equipment and other street projects.
Bill Brown, speaking for the executive committee of the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council, asked the committee to not to use the entire city’s bonding capacity, to not go beyond borrowing $4 million.
“We don’t think it is prudent course to go all in and take us to the higher end of that pending some things going on in the community right now,” Brown said.
Brown said the committee is “firmly on board” supporting the cultural arts facilities.
But it wants the council to save bond capacity for other projects that could foster economic development, such as improving U.S. 50 and Missouri 291. While there might not be bonding capacity to pay for entirety of those projects, the city could possibly use bonds for design work or local match money the city will need to get the project done in cooperation with the Missouri Department of Transportation, Brown said.
The committee considered a suggestion by Councilmember Allan Gray from an earlier meeting to drop Arnold Hall as a proposed home for the Lee’s Summit Historical Society Museum.
Instead, a former post office, constructed by the Works Projects Administration in 1939 as part of the New Deal efforts for relief during the Great Depression. Inside it also has painted murals.
That building, at 220 SW Main, served for many years as City Hall, before a new home for the city was built at Green and Third streets. It is now leased to ReDiscover for its headquarters.
That increases the cultural arts portion of the bond issue by $260,000 for the museum site but would put the historical society in a permanent home.
Councilmember Rob Binney asked how the building compared structurally to Arnold Hall and if it could it last another 100 years.
Architect John Wisniewski said the building needed some updates to its heating and cooling system and other improvements but was structurally sound. A large portion of the renovations would be to make it handicapped accessible.
“It’s got good bones, you can work with it,” Wisniewski said.
Wisniewski volunteered to help the historical society with concept designs for that site a couple of years ago when it was working on its strategic plan. He said restoring the lobby of the post office, with its cage and counter for transactions and mural would be a nice addition to downtown.
“I think it would be a marketable and wonderful thing for Lee’s Summit,” Wisniewski said.
Arnold Hall, he said, has been repurposed several times and has reached its life expectancy and there are better uses for the site.
Councilmember Brian Whitley asked for a report on expected operating costs for the facility and the Lee’s Summit Historical Society’s plan for paying the overhead.
Kathy Smith, president of the historical society, told the committee the group had dreamed of using the former post office. She said the society needs space as its collection is growing along with the number of visitors. It currently is in donated space at the city train depot, which has the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce and Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council’s offices.
The society plans to build a membership base and use membership dues, donations and revenue from book and souvenir sales.
“We’ve had a lot more people coming in our small space,” Smith said. “The old post office will be great.”
Binney questioned spending about $1.6 million for the amphitheater improvements, objecting to adding 327 parking spaces. The enhancements would also include a raised, covered state and storage. An earlier estimate, without that many parking spaces, was about $900,000.
Binney said he’d prefer to finish the amphitheater and add parking if there is actually that much demand.
Gray said any group developing theater or music venues always consider whether there is adequate parking and predicted that with proper marketing the spaces will be needed.
Gray, Whitley and Derek Holland voted for the cultural arts package and Binney abstained.
Whitley moved to put the Pryor Road project in the list to give pedestrians and cyclists a place to travel without conflicting with drivers.
“I prefer not to weave around people walking in the street,” Whitley said.
That project was added with a 3-1 vote, Holland voting no.
Binney moved to include Orchard Street for its public safety value, but that motion failed with a 2-2 vote. Gray and Holland voted no. Whitley said he supported the project because of the connectivity it could provide downtown.
Holland, committee chairman, said he intended to vote no regarding any other projects beyond the cultural arts facilities because he thinks the city should preserve bond capacity for the future. He said the city should consider another bond issue the next year when it has even more bonding capacity available and could possibly include funding for projects that have economic development potential.
Arbo said if the City Council decides it is a priority an internal loan between city funds could be used to finance the $800,000 for new LifePaks, cardiac monitoring devices that also can be used to shock a heart attack victim to help restore a normal heart beat.
Christine Bushyhead, chair of the Cultural Facilities Task Force, said in an interview she thinks its members would be pleased with the committee decision.
She said the task force had focused on Arnold Hall because that was part of its original direction from the council, but the important result is that CIP committee supports the bond issue for the cultural arts facilities.
“At the very least we wanted them to support downtown, it’s up to them to do either location,” Bushyhead said.