A stall for Arnold Hall

rpulley@lsjournal.comJanuary 3, 2014 

An ad-hoc committee of the Lee’s Summit Arts Council seems poised to toss the hot potato of Arnold Hall back to the City Council.

But council members were hoping for their guidance.

During a two-hour meeting which included a tour of the vacant building at 123 Third Street, the committee bogged down in confusion over whether it’s mandate includes recommendations for uses of Arnold Hall, or is restricted to planning the site for an outdoor plaza and stage.

John Wisniewski, a retired architect, formerly with Hollis+Miller which is working on the plaza design, showed the committee Arnold Hall and gave it background on the building. He suggested that for architects to do adequate planning the Arts Council needs to give them some ideas of what uses they expect at the site.

Arts Council Chair Syrtiller Kabat said during the Dec. 30 committee meeting that the council’s motion choosing the site for the plaza didn’t address Arnold Hall. City staff indicated they didn’t think the council was asking for a recommendation programming for Arnold Hall.

“It’s really hard to say what’s going to happen outside without knowing what’s going to happen to the building,” said Carole Gray, an Arts Council member.

The committee drafted a recommendation to incorporate the Arnold Hall space into planning for the site, essentially restating a position the Arts Council took in a letter to the City Council a month ago. It stopped there. The plan was to send it to the full Arts Council for consideration..

The Arts Council’s stand on Arnold Hall has been that it wants to see the building turned into a “white-box.” It would be a flexible space, with a mostly open floor plan to be used for exhibits or small indoor performances.

Several council members and Mayor Randy Rhoads said in interviews Dec. 31 that there is a misunderstanding. They said the council’s stipulation is that renovation of Arnold Hall is secondary to building the plaza and performance space that was promised to voters in April.

The bond issue included $600,000 for a downtown plaza/performance space. At one point Arnold Hall had been considered for inclusion in the bond issue.

Discussion about Arnold Hall has rekindled because the city couldn’t negotiate an acceptable price for land on Market Street, forcing the council to switch to the site across from City Hall at 123 Third Street.

The advantage there is that without buying land, the city has more money available for improving the site.

The council’s directive, they said, is for the Arts Council to consider the best design for an outdoor performance space and if and how Arnold Hall fits into that overall plan. In their view, the Arts Council is free to suggest demolishing the building and rebuilding the plaza and a stage from ground up. Or the plan could include adapting Arnold Hall as a complementary facility.

Council members interviewed said they want to avoid the perception of a “bait and switch” if too much of the $600,000 budget goes to renovating Arnold Hall. But they said they would support some spending on reopening Arnold Hall, if there is a practical plan.

For example, Arts Council member Brad Cox points out that Arnold Hall has existing bathrooms and a catering kitchen that could be useful for concessions. Those amenities could be reused for savings of maybe $100,000 over building new facilities for the plaza.

Council member Ed Cockrell, in November when the council decided to include the Arts Council in planning the site, at that council meeting said he wanted the Arts Council to consider uses of Arnold Hall as it discusses the design for the site. Councilmember Allan Gray at the meeting said he expected Arnold Hall to be part of the mix.

Cockrell reiterated the point in an interview Dec. 30.

“If it’s not an exorbitant amount of money, it can be part of the site,” Cockrell said. “It could be a classy, stylish facility that enhances the historical ambiance of the area.”

Councilman Rob Binney, the council liaison to the Arts Council, agreed.

“I believe it (Arnold Hall) still has some use in it,” Binney said.

He said he’s open to that possibility, if brought forward by the Arts Council.

Rhoads said he thinks that if repurposing Arnold Hall to support the outdoor performance space is viable, then it is an acceptable option to the council, depending on the cost.

“We don’t want to tell the committee what we want to hear, it’s self-defeating of forming a citizen’s committee,” Rhoads said.

Council members Bob Johnson, Dave Mosby and Brian Whitley said they agreed that was the general direction of the council, but they didn’t want to extra money spent on consultants beyond the architects already hired.

“It’s cheapest if we use what’s already there,” Whitley said.

Johnson said he believed the council’s adopted policy is to keep Arnold Hall, regardless of his personal thoughts on the building. He said it is unfortunate the confusion is delaying progress on the downtown performance space.

“In my view, the majority of the council wants it to stay and to be renovated,” Johnson said.

Mosby said, “It has historical value, if it’s possible to renovate and use it, I’d be for that, if it’s cost prohibitive or functionally not suitable, we’d have to look at tearing it down.”

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