Tuesday, Dec. 11 2012 5:01PM
Fate of Arnold Hall uncertain
By Russ Pulley
If the Lee’s Summit City Council next week accepts a subcommittee suggestion for a 2013 bond issue, the question of what to do with Arnold Hall on Third Street remains open.
And maybe that’s how it should be, said Councilmember Allan Gray, a proponent of using a historic post office owned by the city as a home for the Lee’s Summit Historical Society, instead of putting the museum in Arnold Hall. A bond issue being considered includes $660,000 for that project.
The City Council also is looking at its strategies for economic development and that will include a reconsideration of the master plan for downtown, Gray said.
“We want to operate with as clean a slate as possible for economic development,” Gray said. So not settling on a preconceived fate for the building is appropriate for now, he said.
The irony is that finding a use for the building was at least part of the impetus for discussion of a possible April 2013 bond issue.
The city has been working on a cultural plan, known as the Webb Study, but it was the failure of a plan to move the Martin City Melodrama into Arnold Hall which added momentum to a desire to find a use for the vacant building.
Last year when the city’s Cultural Facilities Task Force was appointed by the council, it was charged to recommend a reuse for Arnold Hall. Among its uses the building has been a restaurant, City Council chambers and most recently it was the home for Lee’s Summit’s senior center until the Gamber Center opened in 2008. Now Arnold Hall is gutted and idle.
The task force recommended restoration of the building (at a cost of $400,000) for a space for traveling exhibits, a home for the Lee’s Summit Historical Society and possibly joint projects with the Mid-Continent Public Library.
Gray said he suggested the switch for several reasons.
First, he said, there has already been a study done on converting the post office, better known as the old City Hall, to museum space.
Secondly it will help bridge the railroad tracks downtown, giving people another reason to visit west of the tracks.
Gray said Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street Inc. is supportive of putting the museum in a location that is handy to the Amtrak station (across the street) because of the marketing opportunities it provides the community.
He said Arnold Hall would have only been a temporary site for the museum. Allan noted that the Lee’s Summit Historical Society is a well-established organization which has been active for years. If the city is going to support a site for the museum, now is a good time to make that move, he said.
Moving the museum to the post office also provides an opportunity to look for other ways to facilitate a second proposal in for the bond issue, which is to build a festival space off Market Street, on vacant lots which are located directly behind the post office.
The switch would be more expensive, with $660,000 of the estimated cost for the post office location, compared to $400,000 for Arnold Hall.
Christine Bushyhead, chair of the Cultural Arts Facilities Task Force, said selecting a different site doesn’t undo the main point of the task force’s recommendation, which was to make an investment downtown.
“They may just want to see if the energy of cultural arts investment is there and the private sector might find a use for (Arnold Hall),” Bushyhead said. “It’s not where they want to make the investment right now.”
When the city was deciding to build a parking structure to accompany a new City Hall, the Arnold Hall site was considered as a location for that structure. A wrap-around structure for retail shops fronting the street and parking behind was an idea supported by Bushyhead when she was on the council. Other council members now have different ideas regarding Arnold Hall.
Bob Johnson said there’s some thought that the building should be “taken down to the ground” and start with a new concept. He’d like to see its fate handled now, not later.
“If we’re not going to fix the building with a bond question,” Johnson said, “we ought to talk about it now; it’s what gave the bond issue its impetus to begin with.”
Johnson favors the city divesting land and buildings it’s not using, especially after lack of progress on the Exergonix project, where the city cooperated with entrepreneur Don Nissanka to buy land for a battery manufacturing plant near U.S. 50 and Missouri 291 south.
“I am totally opposed to land banking,” Johnson said.
Johnson is against the city going forward with a bond issue at this time, regardless of whether it’s for Arnold Hall or the post office renovations.
Councilmember Rob Binney was on the Capital Improvements Project Committee, along with Gray, Derek Holland and Brian Whitley. Binney added that switching the museum plan will need to get full support of the council and the decision is tentative. He said no one is “knocking at the city’s door” with a proposal to buy and demolish Arnold Hall and rebuild the block. He said he doesn’t know of any alternative plan for the building.
So if it is economically feasible to refurbish the building for some use it might be worthwhile, he said.
He said a key component of staying with the plan to set up the museum in the former post office at 220 SW Main St. will be presenting an economically feasible plan for running the facility, paying the utilities, upkeep and other expenses that historical society would be responsible to carry.
He said the committee made its recommendation with the intent the council will get a fuller action plan on museum operations before it makes its decision.
“That would sure help me be more comfortable with it,” Binney said.