Tuesday, Jan. 15 2013 11:30AM
Arnold Hall renovations reconsidered
Arts Council seeks additional indoor performance space
By Russ Pulley
Renovation of Arnold Hall might again be tossed into the mix of Lee’s Summit capital improvements to be decided during an April election. That is, if the recommendation can make it to the election board in time.
The City Council had reached a preliminary decision to include a historic 1939 post office on West Market Street, instead of Arnold Hall, in proposed bond projects. Arnold Hall is a vacant, city-owned building on Third Street across from the current City Hall.
The council only needed a final vote on how to organize the ballot, which was scheduled for its Jan. 10 meeting.
At its Dec. 8 meeting, Lee’s Summit Arts Council members wondered whether the council’s plan would accommodate practice and performance space for performing arts, said Councilmember Rob Binney and Joe Snook, assistant administrator for Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation.
“They didn’t understand how the museum would be a performance art space as well as cultural arts space,” Binney said.
The issue was pulled from the agenda Jan. 10 by Councilmember Allan Gray, serving as mayor pro tem while Mayor Randy Rhoads was absent due to illness. The discussion and vote is now expected for a Special Session of the City Council Jan. 17. The city has a Jan. 22 deadline to get ballot questions to Jackson County to make the April ballot.
Gray said in an interview he wanted to give council members an additional week to get more information and think about the issue.
“The arts organizations want to make certain that a performance component is a significant piece of the bond issue,” Gray said. “We want to be certain that we have bond projects moving forward that are a comprehensive matrix of arts and cultural facilities.”
The Cultural Arts Facility Task Force last fall recommended renovating Arnold Hall for a “white space” which could be used for traveling exhibits, small performances, and also include some exhibit space for the Lee’s Summit Historical Society Museum.
But in committee meetings, Gray suggested trading out Arnold Hall for the former post office on West Main Street, which is now leased to ReDiscover for offices.
But the change left some unanswered questions.
Councilmember Bob Johnson said the arts community leaders were surprised and as a result council members last week began getting calls asking for Arnold Hall to be put back into the mix. Arnold Hall renovations would increase the bond issue by $400,000.
The council had already had made a preliminary decision ask voters permission to borrow:
• Nearly $2.9 million for improving the Legacy Park Amphitheater, the post office and an outdoor festival space on Market Street, behind the post office.
• $1.6 million for adding hard surface shoulders to Pryor Road
• $3 million for reconstruction of Orchard Street between Independence and Douglas streets.
Council members reached for interviews generally supported Gray’s decision. Johnson said he had talked to Gray about the calls and they agreed 24 hours were not enough time to resolve potential problems. Binney said he didn’t know Gray was going to pull the item.
“It might have been the prudent thing to do at the least,” Binney said. “It may have hampered us in the time to talk about it.
Councilmember David Mosby said he had gotten a couple of phone calls from people “related” to the Arts Council who were concerned the post office/historic museum plan wouldn’t accommodate practice space for performing groups. He said he learned minutes before the council meeting that vote was going to be pulled.
He said Gray made the right move, noting that the mayor or mayor pro tem often delay agenda items that need additional work. The change at a late hour does open other areas of debate, he said.
There isn’t a solid plan for who will operate Arnold Hall or pay for upkeep and utilities.
During preparing its recommendations, the Cultural Arts Facility Task Force postponed planning for operation of Arnold Hall, noting that it would probably take a couple of years to complete construction projects, which would give the city time to address that issue.
The historical society at least had a conceptual plan for its operations at the post office location.
Ideas have been floated about adding a city staff person to oversee operations, or for a staff person for the arts council, a step some council members oppose.
Mosby said the council might want to go ahead with other issues for April, and then explore options for an election later this year on Arnold Hall.
“I am remaining open-minded,” Mosby said. “With this new potential plan, I do have some reservations and questions whether a business plan should be developed.”
Mosby is not the only councilmember who dislikes the notion of deciding later who will be responsible for expenses of running Arnold Hall.
Johnson said, “I’m really nervous about putting a project on the ballot for capital improvements with no discussion at all for operating costs.”
He said that with the economy just coming out of a recession, the city should be conservative with its budget. He said the city needs to know if there is a plan for user groups to pay for utilities and upkeep of the facilities.
“The community needs to know in advance what the city’s going to do in the way of operating expenses,” he said.
Johnson said all the proposals should be separate questions so the public could vote on their individual merits.
Councilmember Derek Holland, chairman of the ad-hoc Capital Improvement Projects Committee, said he was opposed to making last-moment additions.
“I was a little surprised to see it come up at this late date,” Holland said. “This is not going to sit well with taxpayers...I think it’s going to leave a bad taste in some people’s minds.”