Back to the drawing board for Arnold Hall

rpulley@lsjournal.comNovember 20, 2013 

The Lee’s Summit Arts Council is recommending that the city renovate Arnold Hall to be a “white box” for exhibits and small indoor performances.

Under that plan, Arnold Hall (a former manufacturing plant) might be brought out of mothballs to make its large open space available to various organizations.

“The only limit on what we can do in there is the limit of our imagination,” said Ben Martin, LSAC member and president of Summit Theatre Group.

Councilman Allan Gray had gone to an Arts Council last week to talk about proposals for the building and land at 123 SE Third Street. He suggested razing the building, a proposal that was met with some push-back from the group.

The city wants to use the site for an outdoor performance space, financed by a portion of at $2.8 million bond issue for cultural arts facilities approved by voters in April.

The city had wanted to use a downtown site on Market Street, but couldn’t negotiate an acceptable price for the land, so the council decided to consider using the city-owned land across from City Hall on Third Street.

Gray said in an interview Nov. 19 that he went to the Arts Council meeting last week to make sure it was involved as the city goes forward on the project.

Hollis+Miller, the city’s architect for the project, is to make a report on the issue to the City Council on Nov. 21.

The Arts Council reacted by calling a special meeting which it held Nov. 18.

Renovating Arnold Hall was part of the initial proposal for a cultural facilities bond issue, when it was to be a “white box” shared as museum space for the Lee’s Summit Historical Society.

Arnold Hall was left out of the package presented to voters in April. Instead the WPA Post Office was included to be a new home for the society’s museum.

Gray said the reason was that he wanted to move the Lee’s Summit Historical Society to the WPA Post Office because Arnold Hall would have been a temporary site and he didn’t want to make the society to move twice.

The WPA Post Office decision did fulfill the long-term vision of the historical society, but disappointed leaders of other organizations who wanted a downtown, indoor performance space.

The council then, at Gray’s suggestion, asked city staff look at alternative funding for Arnold Hall as a white box by borrowing from other city funds, with the idea of paying that inter-fund loan back within five years.

That proposal was dropped; City Manager Steve Arbo said the idea fell through because the city couldn’t identify a revenue stream that would repay the other funds.

Gray said he has been pointing out that architects have said Arnold Hall has outlived its usefulness.

“I’m just trying to consider how Arnold Hall fits into the equation or not as we go forward,” Gray said.

Gray said the council should give serious consideration to the Arts Council recommendation, but council members and arts leaders will have to “dive deeper” to look at finances to determine how to pay for operating costs for Arnold Hall.

“There’s some questions to be answered,” Gray said. “I’m supportive of the Arts Council’s resolution, if there are ways to bring it about.”

The outdoor performance venue had a budget of $600,000, including purchasing land. During the Nov. 12 LSAC meeting, Gray said demolishing Arnold Hall would eat about $70,000 of those funds.

Proponents of renovating Arnold Hall note now there is money available because the city doesn’t have to purchase land. There’s also plenty of space available adjacent to Arnold Hall., said Syrtiller Kabat, chair of the Arts Council.

“We have more land to work with than the Market Street site,” Kabat said. “We’re seeing it as a positive for the community.”

She said the Nov. 18 special meeting was called to review the city’s 2007 Cultural Arts Plan and the 2012 recommendations of the Cultural Arts Facility Task Force, then decide on a recommendation to the council.

The resolution passed for renovating Arnold Hall and to build the outdoor venue next to it passed unanimously by the nine of 11 members present.

She said Duncan Webb, the author of the original Cultural Arts Plan adopted by the city, attended the meeting to answer questions.

Council member Rob Binney, liaison with the Arts Council, is to take the recommendation to the City Council’s Nov. 21 meeting.

Binney said his first choice would have been to build the venue on Market Street as originally planned. Because that isn’t possible, the site at Arnold Hall is the best alternative, he said.

He said he supports renovating the building for an interim use, although in 10 or 15 years the city might want to take a different tack.

Binney said his main objective is to complete an outdoor festival space as promised to voters.

“If there’s money left over, a means to do something with Arnold Hall, it’s something to look at,” Binney said. “I don’t see a need to take it down now if it can serve a purpose.”

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