Thursday, Jan. 24 2013 5:43PM
Arnold Hall a work in progress
Alternative proposal estimated at $240,000
By Russ Pulley
A complete plan for renovating Arnold Hall in downtown Lee’s Summit and its future uses is in the making.
After omission from last week’s positive vote on putting cultural arts measures on the April ballot, Lee’s Summit City Manager Steve Arbo is working on options for renovating the former industrial building on Third Street across from City Hall.
Renovations for Arnold Hall for a “white space” would cost about $240,000, Arbo said.
The city architect estimated that amount for replacement of heating and air conditioning systems, flooring, fixing restrooms and adding insulation and finished around the inside of its perimeter, Arbo said. The construction would be financed with a five-year loan from other city funds, which would be repaid with interest. Other parts of the report are to include suggestions for operating the building and revenue to cover those operating costs.
The Lee’s Summit City Council on Jan. 17 gave Arbo 60 days to bring it a report on Arnold Hall.
The idea is to ready Arnold Hall to be an open room that would provide flexible space for use by different small performance groups or exhibits. It’s resurrecting part of the Cultural Arts Facility Task Force plan for Arnold Hall which was dumped by the City Council, following Councilmember Allan Gray’s lead.
Instead Gray proposed renovating a 1939 post office on West Main Street, now occupied by ReDiscover, and turning it into exhibit space for the Lee’s Summit Historical Society. That project would be financed by a bond issue, if it is approved by voters April 2.
“I think it’s a good balance that we’re moving forward,” Gray said.
There’s some irony, as the council initially appointed the Cultural Arts Facility Task Force only to make recommendations for Arnold Hall. Gray said in an interview Jan. 23 that under the task force report the Arnold Hall location for the historical society was to be temporary, with the city putting $400,000 into the renovations.
“I didn’t understand why we were going to have them move twice,” Gray said. So he offered the switch.
But arts supporters questioned that change early in January.
After a brief delay over the confusion, the council still decided Jan. 17 to put a bond package on the ballot which left out Arnold Hall. Gray proposed an alternative the same night, to use other city funds for Arnold Hall.
Brad Cox, a Lee’s Summit Arts Council member, said one reason arts groups wanted Arnold Hall included in the mix is that it provides a “book end” that helps define an arts district.
The bond issue also includes money for an outdoor festival space on the west side of the railroad tracks in downtown Lee’s Summit and improvements to the Legacy Park amphitheater, along with the post office renovation.
“When we took that away, it was of great concern to the arts community,” Cox said. Including projects on both sides of the railroad track is an important piece for promoting redevelopment throughout downtown, supporters say.
Cox said Arnold Hall was the good choice for “white space.” Because of its design, unencumbered by pillars and with street-level access, the interior of Arnold Hall could be configured in different ways with temporary partitions or other devices for exhibits. But they can be removed to create a larger room for performances.
“A lot of flexibility that allows about any use arts-wise that can go in there,” Cox said.
Ben Martin, president of Summit Theatre group, said his organization definitely could use it for some of its performances or practices.
“It seats very few, but by the same token it gives you a lot of flexibility in your staging,” Martin said.
Martin said it would be suitable for smaller shows, like “Bus Stop” or “A Piece of My Heart” from last season where the theater seated less than 100 people for a performance, but not for large musicals. That is the purpose of improvements proposed for the Legacy Park amphitheater.
Martin said the theater group wouldn’t have enough calendar dates to support Arnold Hall alone, but there are others that would be interested in using the space for performances or rehearsals, such as the Sweet Adelines or dance studios, or visual art exhibits.
“A variety of things,” Martin said. “I’m not completely sure of all the players right now.”
Gray said groups like the Coterie Theater or Kansas City Art Institute might be approached to use Arnold Hall. Gray said questions of who will oversee booking and policy issues are to be answered in Arbo’s report.
“It’s all fluid,” he said.
Gray said he thinks Lee’s Summit residents have recognized that arts can be “another tool in the economic development quiver.” He said an important point is that Arnold Hall as a “white space” is an interim step toward building a larger, 300-seat indoor performance venue downtown.
The initial bond issue and work on Arnold Hall are pieces in fulfilling the Cultural Arts Plan adopted by the council in 2007, he said.
“This is a great step forward,” Gray said. “We’re the first city in Missouri to do that (adopt a cultural plan). We’re actually the leader, we should be proud of that.”