Arts council stays “no” to Arnold Hall demolition

rpulley@lsjournal.comJune 13, 2014 

The Lee’s Summit Arts Council this week voted to send a message to City Hall: Don’t tear down Arnold Hall.

At its meeting June 10, the arts council discussed the council’s decision to change its recommendations for a stage and outdoor space at 123 Third Street and tear down the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Arts Council had recommended remodeling the bathrooms for use to support the festival space. What to do with the remaining space in the building wasn’t determined.

The Lee’s Summit City Council in May decided to look at demolishing the city-owned building and enlarge the project to include the entire site.

Councilmen Allen Gray and David Mosby championed the idea, and Gray asked what representatives of the arts council thought about their concept.

Syrtiller Kabat, arts council president, said the full council hadn’t discussed it because of budget limits, but went ahead to give Allen’s proposal a strong endorsement.

She said individuals’ “dream” was to raze Arnold Hall and combined with the parking spaces, putting the stage in the middle of the property and creating a large festival space. It would fit into the long-term vision of an arts corridor.

During their first regular meeting since May, Arts Council members confronted Kabat and criticized her handling of the situation. Members said her response gave the wrong impression.

The arts council hadn’t discussed Gray’s idea when working on its recommendation.

They were told demolishing Arnold Hall was off the table. At that time the council was pondering selling or leasing the building.

One arts council member, Brad Cox, has already resigned over the incident. Cox worked to pass bonds to finance the arts projects, approved by voters in an April 2013 election.

In an interview, Cox said the arts council had heard Gray’s plan last year, which he outlined at one of their meetings before the city asked the arts council to make a recommendation.

At that point the city already had held planning meetings between architects and user groups for the space and was moving into a design phase. But then the city had discovered it would have to switch locations because it couldn’t buy its first choice in sites, so moved it to city-owned land at 123 Third Street.

Cox said the arts council understood voters had already approved money in the same bond issue to finish a larger outdoor amphitheater and stage in Legacy Park.

Kabat’s remarks to the council that it didn’t consider a broader scope only because of the budget were “disingenuous,” Cox said.

Cox said Gray was manipulating the arts council and volunteers for his personal agenda.

“The arts council was used and our work thrown out the window,” Cox said. “That’s just wrong.”

Now there’s talk by Gray about using money slated for the Legacy Park project to the downtown outdoor space, according to other council members. Gray declined to say whether he’s making those inquiries.

“I’ll be better prepared to talk about the source of funds once we know what costs are for making the expansion,” Gray said.

Gray said that the city council’s decision was based on its reaction to the arts council’s report, not Kabat’s comments.

“It was clear she was speaking as an individual,” Gray said. “There was not a lack of clarity in their report.”

The council decided to look at other options.

“The goal of the council is to provide the best opportunity for the residents of the city to enjoy an outdoor performance space,” Gray said.

LSAC members Ben Martin, Hollie Couch and Melanie Allen said at this week’s arts council, that regardless of Kabat’s disclaimer, they thought her reply was misleading.

“It’s absolutely how it came across,” Allen said. She said it has created a lot of “consternation” on the arts council.

Couch said it caused her serious concerns about the leadership.

She said there seems to be “behind the scenes” talking and rumors about how Gray has involved in those discussions.

“I don’t like what I’m hearing, it’s making me uneasy,” Couch said.

Kabat defended her statement, saying she pointed out the full arts council hadn’t discussed Gray’s plan. She resisted sending another statement to the council. Kabat said the arts council’s direction only was to make a recommendation on the performance space and stage.

“We met that directive, and it’s done,” Kabat said. “What they do with it, it’s out of our hands.”

Councilman Bob Johnson, liaison to the arts council, told them he expects Arnold Hall to be discussed at the city’s June 19 meeting. He said the decision is still up in the air and the council could retreat to the earlier plan of selling or leasing Arnold Hall.

Johnson said expansion of the downtown project or keeping Arnold Hall are both problematic.

“There’s no money either way,” Johnson said.

The arts council voted to go on record as supporting the concepts it had submitted in its report, including using Arnold Hall’s bathrooms.

“We’re saying, basically, to keep it (Arnold Hall),” Martin said.

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