Discussion continues on downtown arts campus

Nathan Zoschke

The most likely scenario for the proposed Downtown Arts Campus is a phased build out, beginning with the relocation of the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance.

The project, which has a strong civic support, includes a $90 million price tag.

Robert Simmons, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Administration, said private donors and matching funds from the state of Missouri are being pursued.

Simmons said timing will depend entirely on how quickly donors can be identified.

“The potential donors and meetings with the donors are probably about the first thing the Chancellor and [Conservatory Dean Peter] Witte think about in the morning and the last thing they think about at night,” he said.

No public information, however, is currently available.

“The discussions at this point have been focused on a phased creation,” Simmons said. “The site selection and programs lend themselves to it. However, there’s a lot of synergy to having the KC Rep, Theatre, KCUR and arts departments.”

Simmons said support from the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Council has created a sense of urgency.

The Chamber listed the arts campus as one of its 5 big ideas for the Kansas City region to promote business growth. The Downtown Council’s Dec. 14 annual luncheon focused on a vision for the arts campus.

Proximity to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in fall 2011, is another impetus.

Feasibility studies point to Juilliard’s location near the Lincoln Center in New York City and other urban arts campuses as successful program models.

In August 2011, Witte, told U-News that existing space on campus was inadequate for the school’s growing programs.

Facilities lack adequate soundproofing. Practice rooms are too small and lack wheelchair accessibility.

“Arts facilities have very specific requirements in terms of sound isolation, size and the number of spaces that the students need,” Witte said.

Once the Conservatory moves out, spaces like the Spencer Theatre and White Recital Hall at the James C. Olson Performing Arts Center will continue to be used by its programs.

Conservatory offices could be used by the KC Rep and Theatre Department, Simmons said, although another feasibility study will be conducted to determine the reuse of the space.

The new Conservatory program would contain between 171,000 and 193,000 square feet.

Its programs currently occupy 28,000 square feet in the James C. Olson PAC, 25,000 square feet in Grant Hall and additional space in two other facilities on campus—5301 Charlotte and the 51st Street Annex.

Simmons said freeing up space on the Volker campus is important as other programs continue to grow.

Transportation between the Volker and downtown arts campus would include UMKC shuttle service and the Main Street MAX line, which students can ride for free with their all-access Metro bus pass.

Simmons said that as the arts campus builds out, demand for retail and housing will increase, which could help boost development downtown.

“It’s important to recognize the civic significance of this project and the allure of 18-25 year-olds to areas like the Crossroads District,” Simmons said.

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