Lee’s Summit wavers on Arnold Hall sale

rpulley@lsjournal.comFebruary 26, 2014 

City leaders are delaying a proposed sale of Arnold Hall until the Lee’s Summit Arts Council makes a recommendation on adapting that building as part of a proposed outdoor stage and gathering spot at 123 Third St.

In a closed session Feb. 20, the city council members voted to delay taking bids for 60 days until the arts council had a chance to make a recommendation.

Councilman Allan Gray in the council’s open session Feb. 20 offered a motion, formally asking the Lee’s Summit Arts Council for a conceptual plan for an outdoor performance/festival space that could include Arnold Hall.

Council member Rob Binney, the council’s liaison with the arts council, opposed the move.

Binney said he thought the council is on a “slippery slope” adding a building to the mix, Arnold Hall, that was included in the bond issue passed by voters in April of 2013. He noted the city has spent hundreds of thousands on Arnold Hall over the years.

“I don’t see putting another dime in that building, I’m going to vote no,” Binney said.

The council voted 6-1 for the motion, with Binney voting no and Ed Cockrell absent.

The issue began late last year the arts council was asked to advise the Lee’s Summit City Council on design of the proposed festival space on the lot which is partly occupied by Arnold Hall.

The arts council’s work bogged down because of uncertainty over whether it could use the building in planning the new facility. As it was asking for more direction, the city also got an inquiry from restaurateur interested in buying the building. The council voted to request bids, irritating some arts council members.

Before that vote members also discussed whether it could legally use bond money on Arnold Hall and whether would fit in the $600,000 budget for the outdoor performance space.

The council also agreed on letting city staff hire a consultant to assist the arts council, if it becomes necessary. Gray proposed that possibility, saying he wanted to avoid setting the arts council up for failure.

Binney asked if the spending is allowed for the bonds voters approved in April 2013.

Interim City Attorney Rich Wood and City Manager Steve Arbo told the council that city’s bond counsel researched the issue and the city can spend money on the building and for a consultant to help the arts council if needed.

Arbo said he could authorize such a consultant, if the fee is under $20,000, without getting bids. The council agreed to get a consultant, if the arts council requested the assistance.

Binney had grilled Gray on exactly what he was proposing for the vacant building.

“Are you asking them to white-box Arnold Hall?” he said. Gray repeatedly responded by re-reading his motion.

Earlier proposals had including renovating the building for arts exhibitions and small performances, but the city council didn’t put that proposal into the bond issue.

Gray avoided answering that question, instead turned to arts council Chair Syrtiller Kabat and asked her what was her understanding of the motion.

She said she understands the project considers Arnold Hall as well as the outdoor performance space as “one space, connected.”

“We appreciate the clarity,” she said.

Council member Bob Johnson said it’s his understanding that the proposal is to use the existing structure to make available amenities such as dressing rooms and restrooms to support the outdoor space.

“There is a legitimate reason to refurbish that building,” he said.

Council member Derek Holland supported getting ideas from the arts council, but stressed that the city council isn’t bound to follow the recommendation.

He warned the council’s response might be: “Thanks for your time, but no thanks, we’re going to go another way.”

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