By LESLIE COLLINS
November 13, 2013
Nearly two dozen Northeast residents gathered inside the Kansas City Museum’s carriage house Nov. 4 to receive an update on the future of the museum.
For nearly eight months, the audit of the mil levy expenditures and the management agreement between the city and Union Station Kansas City, Inc. to operate the museum has been delayed. Now that the city is working with Union Station to sever the management contract, it’s unclear whether the audit will ever be released.
“I know there have been a lot of concerns, a lot of questions,” Kansas City City Council member and Kansas City Museum Advisory Board (KCMAB) member Jan Marcason said. “I can certainly appreciate the anxiety going on in the neighborhood, but we have been working really hard behind the scenes to protect the Kansas City Museum.
“I want to assure you that I believe we have come to a very favorable conclusion to a kind of rocky history.”
Negotiations are ongoing, and Marcason said she couldn’t reveal all of the details of the proposed contract, but said she believes that the museum, the city and Union Station are on a path to move forward collaboratively. Marcason added the city will ensure that the museum remains an anchor in the community and a place to display and appreciate Kansas City’s history.
State Rep. J.J. Rizzo, who was unable to attend the meeting, relayed via email that he will request a state audit of Union Station’s management contract and mil levy expenditures. Rizzo also vowed to meet with city council members to discuss bringing the museum back to its former glory, returning it to a fully functioning attraction.
“I don’t have any problem if they want to do an audit. That’s fine with us,” Marcason told Northeast News.
“We can show you every nickel. We have nothing to hide,” added Mark McHenry, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
In 2005, the city of Kansas City launched a historic renovation initiative at the Kansas City Museum and to date, the roof and masonry of Corinthian Hall have been repaired, the Gate House Lodge received a new roof, and windows and doors were either reconstructed or replaced at Corinthian Hall and the carriage house. In addition, the HVAC system was updated. To prepare for interior renovations, museum and Union Station staff packed up all of the museum’s artifacts and displays in 2008 and transferred them to storage, where they remain today.
Marcason said renovating the grounds and Corinthian Hall will require at least $20 million, but added that plans could be scaled back to save money, like eliminating the construction of a new visitor’s center.
“Everybody wants a Lexus, but what the city can afford is a really stable Ford,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re making the most of the funding that we have available. $1.4 million (from the mil levy) is guaranteed a year. I think we’ve really tried to structure a plan that gets as much resources to do the physical structure of Corinthian Hall as possible. That’s where we’re headed.”
The city has also been careful not to “burn bridges” with Union Station, she said, so as not to deter potential donors from giving to the museum.
To secure additional funding for the museum, KCMAB recently formed a 501(c)3 non-profit called the Kansas City Museum Foundation, which will focus on fundraising and applying for grants, she said.
“The foundation was designed to raise money and that’s going to be very critical; the city has a lot of needs,” Marcason said. “We just have to be really honest with what we can afford, what do we need, and how are we going to pay for it?”
New manager of KC Museum
Once the city severs the contract with Union Station, it plans to put the Parks and Recreation Department in charge of the museum.
“They have a history of working on historic and Kansas City treasures to make sure that they are protected and that they are actually thriving. I think they’ve done that with a lot of those entities, and I have full confidence they’re going to do that with the Kansas City Museum,” Marcason said of the Parks and Recreation Department.
“We’re glad to do it. This presents some challenges, but we’re looking forward to the opportunities,” McHenry said.
Currently, the Parks and Recreation Department operates and/or owns a dozen museums, including the American Jazz Museum, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, among others.
As for storing the collections, the city plans to use Union Station facilities and private storage in the Hunt Midwest caves. Union Station would be paid to house the collections, but the city would be the manager of the collections, he said.
Asked what percentage of the collections Union Station owns, Marcason said one figure she’s heard is 90 percent. However, that could be comprised of a number of small artifacts, she said.
“It is a little complicated, to say the least, because you have a huge collection owned by different people and you have different players involved,” McHenry said.
“I think when it’s said and done, I think it’s (separation agreement) going to be the best thing to happen to move forward, and I think it will put the museum on stable ground,” KCMAB member Adam Schieber said. “I think it will allow the museum to focus on what it needs to do – to not just thrive on programming, but how do we move forward with the capital improvements?”
“I really am excited,” Marcason said. “When this gets inked, I think we will be able to satisfy all of those who were concerned when we’re able to divulge the entire package in the severance. I’m really confident that what we’ve decided, how we’re moving forward, is going to be in all of our best interests.”