Lee’s Summit offers to sell Arnold Hall

rpulley@lsjournal.comFebruary 11, 2014 

Arnold Hall, a city-owned building that local arts groups hoped to use for an event space, will soon be on the seller’s block.

At a closed session Feb. 6, the City Council decided to take proposals for the property after a Lee’s Summit restaurant group offered to buy the building at 123 Third Street. The restaurant group was reportedly in talks with Zimmer Company on the former Maxwell’s space at Third and Douglas, but that deal has fallen through.

It won’t prevent the city from building an outdoor performance and gathering space in the parking area to the west of the building. That’s the designated site for the project to be financed by bonds approved by voters nearly a year ago.

Mayor Randy Rhoads said the property could be split. At one time the parcel was two lots, Rhoads said, but they were combined when there was a proposal to renovate Arnold Hall into a performance space for the Martin City Melodrama. Rhoads said the lots will be subdivided again as a condition of a sale. The city would keep the west side for the performance space.

At this point, Rhoads said, the council is investigating what Arnold Hall might be worth on the market. He said the city is taking bids as part of a process to determine the best use of the building.

“Somebody else could come in with a higher price,” Rhoads said. “Part of the discussion, when we get the bids, will be is this actually the best use for the property.”

The city announced that on Jan. 30 it got a proposal to buy Arnold Hall. The council in closed session Feb. 6 decided it would request proposals to see what the property could bring. The city staff intends to present proposals it receives to the council by April 3.

Decades ago, Arnold Hall was donated to the city, perhaps to be used as a community center. It is mothballed now, but in the interim, it has been used as a senior center, council chambers, offices for Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street Inc., and was leased for a restaurant.

Kathy Smith, president of the Lee’s Summit Historical Society, said she supports reuse of historic buildings downtown. She noted Arnold Hall, originally a pipe-nipple factory, is on the National Register of Historic Places, so that new owners could be eligible for tax credits for some restoration costs.

“I hope it’s a white-tablecloth restaurant,” Smith said. “We have enough sports bars.”

Council member Ed Cockrell said he proposed moving the outdoor performance space to that location, as an alternative to a Market Street site that fell through when the city and owner couldn’t agree on a price.

He said he did not intend to preclude finding a use for Arnold Hall, if the arts council found a plan that fits with the outdoor space and didn’t siphon money away from that project.

But the focus was on an outdoor space.

“No one has taken that away with this decision,” Cockrell said.

He said the Arts Council had opportunity to make suggestions on how Arnold Hall could contribute to that plan, but instead balked.

The Arts Council members were uncertain whether their charge included Arnold Hall because of the wording of the motion, so asked the council for permission to include it in planning for the outdoor space.

Councilman Rob Binney took that request to the council at the Feb. 6 meeting, and the council decided to discuss that issue at future meeting, possibly April 17 after the city had bids for Arnold Hall.

Cockrell said there might be entrepreneurs who would be interested in leasing Arnold Hall, doing a tenant finish at their expense, and “marrying it up” with the performance space.

Syrtiller Kabat, chair of the Arts Council, could not be reached for comment.

Ben Martin, president of the Summit Theatre Group and an arts council member, said he was surprised at the announcement.

STG is one group that is interested in using Arnold Hall for rehearsals and small shows.

“The arts council will talk about it, and see if we want to do anything about it,” Martin said.

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