Tuesday, Jan. 22 2013 4:49PM
Roads, arts will be on April ballot
City will look at alternative financing for Arnold Hall renovation
By Russ Pulley
Voters this spring will decide whether Lee’s Summit should borrow money to renovate a historic post office, improve Legacy Park’s amphitheater, build a downtown outdoor festival venue and improve two roads.
At a special session Jan. 17 the Lee’s Summit City Council unanimously voted to put bond issues on the April ballot.
Councilmember Kathy Hofmann was absent; she recently had a death in her family.
Councilmember Allan Gray praised the council’s decision.
“We’re taking our place center stage in the arts in the region,” Gray said.
He noted council members Bob Johnson and Ed Cockrell had been longtime supporters of the arts which helped the city reach this point.
The council decided on two bond issues for the ballot:
• Nearly $2.9 million for renovating cultural arts facilities.
The projects include renovation of the 1939 post office on West Main Street, a covered stage and additional parking at the Legacy Park Amphitheater and an outdoor festival venue, including a stage, on Market Street, near the renovated post office.
• $4.6 million in bonds for reconstruction of Orchard Street and adding paved shoulders to Pryor Road.
The bond issues would not raise taxes, but residents would forgo eventual roll backs in the city debt levy. The election will be on April 2.
Reaching agreement on specific projects took months and council members had differences in priorities.
The council wrestled with suggestions from different constituents and a desire by some council members to keep the bond issue small or delay the election for a year or two.
A council-appointed Cultural Arts Facility Task Force had been appointed to decide on a plan for Arnold Hall, a vacant city building which many years ago was donated with the idea it could be a community center.
The task force worked on its recommendations last year, based on a report known as the Webb study, and came back with suggestions for a broader, far-reaching plan than the council had expected.
But the task force’s short-term recommendation was for a bond issue to renovate Arnold Hall, the amphitheater and a build a festival space downtown.
The council, in response, appointed a Capital Improvements Projects Committee, which considered that recommendation along with other city needs. The committee ultimately added the street projects. Gray successfully proposed switching the historic post office for Arnold Hall during committee meetings.
The council was prepared to vote on the package Jan. 10. That was derailed by confusion of exactly what uses would be in the former 1939 post office on West Main Street.
The plan outlined by the committee was to use the building for the Lee’s Summit Historical Society Museum. It is now leased to ReDiscover.
But cultural arts supporters were questioning whether that include space for small performance space or other exhibits besides the museum.
Gray, acting as mayor pro tem, delayed the vote. He said there was a desire by some of the arts community to add Arnold Hall back onto the bond issue.
Even earlier, the council also struggled over whether reconstruction of Orchard Street would benefit enough residents to be on the bond issue. The council, in a split decision, combined the two road projects in one question.
Council members Cockrell, Johnson and Holland voted no.
Councilmember Brian Whitley said “In terms of moving it forward, the best chance of success is to combine the two, it’s a good marrying of old and new Lee’s Summit... not forgetting a segment of our community.”
Johnson in previous weeks proposed delaying the bond election, but losing on that issue, he continued to argue for tweaks to the plan, such as building parking for the amphitheater in phases, as made necessary by attendance.
The council agreed to that idea during the special session. It also directed City Manager Steve Arbo to look at the possibility of using an inter-fund loan between city programs, as an alternative to finance renovating Arnold Hall. That was a proposal by Gray after the bond package was voted on. That directive also is for Arbo to provide a detailed plan for operating both the post office and Arnold Hall when the renovations are complete.
Johnson said he expected the operating costs would be borne by the private user groups.
Councilmember Derek Holland said the tenant for the post office on West Main Street is presumed to be the Lee’s Summit Historical Society.
But he said the council needs to give consideration for the best use of the facilities and warned there could be a change direction if the historical society can’t provide for operating costs.
“I’ll throw that monkey wrench out there,” Holland said.