Today we continue with the candidates’ responses to our questionnaire for those seeking positions on the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners.
The third questionnaire item is as follows:
What is the best plan for the King Louie building the county purchased in 2011?
Ed Peterson (County Commission Chair challenger)
The King Louie property can best be used as a permanent home for the Johnson County Museum with the remaining space of King Louie used for other county functions that need space. I would concentrate on combining functions that include creative activity such as the Enterprise Center, Parks and Recreation, and the Arts Council of Johnson County. The Enterprise Center and the Arts Council currently receive financial support from the county and pay rent for space to third parties. An additional possibility may be use of auditorium space in King Louie as a winter home for Theater in the Park. The facility could serve as an advance voting location to replace the Metcalf South Mall site.
A fact that has been lost in the discussion about this property is that the county has been searching for a permanent home for the museum for several years and the King Louie building provided the lowest total cost by far of any option identified to date. The cost advantage coupled with the opportunity to utilize an architectural icon in a central location made the King Louie acquisition attractive.
The proposed reuse of any building with potential historical significance will usually generate controversy between those who like the old and those who want to move on to the new. This experience has taught me that a plan is essential before a project like this can be explained to the public. I believe a plan incorporating the above elements will result in a community asset we will all be proud of.
Ed Eilert (County Commission Chair incumbent)
The King Louie facility and its approximately five acres were purchased for the purpose of acquiring a new home for the Johnson County Historic Museum. Parts of the museum’s current structure date to the 1920s, portions of lower levels have been flooded and are no longer useable, and, recently, mold issues have been discovered. The future of the museum in part, is going to depend on the ability to raise private funds to support the historic activities. The current facilities are very inadequate for that purpose. In addition there are other county supported agencies that are and have been paying rent for years, The Enterprise Center of Johnson County is currently paying about $250,000 in annual rent, which is equal to about half of the county general fund support for that agency. The savings of rent payments from this one agency over 8 years will exceed the purchase price of the King Louie building and property. Other agencies that receive county support could locate in the building. Additional space is needed for advance voting activities and the training of poll workers. The building offers space for joint programming activities between the libraries, park and recreation department and the museum. There is adequate parking for all these activities. The building needs to become operational to support those important public uses.
Patricia Lightner (County Commission Chair challenger)
The purchase of the King Louie Building in 2011 was then and continues to be a great waste of tax payer monies. After the purchase, the building cost an additional million and a half just to mothball it while its fate is being decided. Both my opponents voted to buy King Louie.
Even if a defined purpose for the building had been in place at the time of the vote, (which it evidently was not), the amount of money required in rehabbing it should alone have been a game stopper.
At this point, the Johnson County Commission needs to realize it has to cut its losses in the most economic way it can and get out from under this fiscal drag.
I would propose finding a Johnson County real estate developer, who would be interested in swapping out King Louie for another property elsewhere in the county. Obviously, this would have to be a developer who wouldn’t mind taking one for the county due to the costs of tearing down the building.
One idea for this land swap would be for an appropriate site for the re-location of the Johnson County Museum in Shawnee. The current museum has been deteriorating for years, and could use a new building and a slightly, larger location to continue its purpose.
This idea would certainly require more monies to be spent. But starting with a clean slate of land and with proper vision and better planning – this could be the opportunity to renovate the museum which has been an important part of our children’s lives.
Mark Nauser (District 1 Commissioner candidate)
Ideally, the “best plan” is to get the most out of this asset that the taxpayers purchased in 2011. How can we get the most value from this location? “Value” can be very subjective and that fact has helped contribute to the continuing delays with this project. Proposed occupants have changed since the original plan was presented.
At this moment I’m not able to suggest what I believe would be the “best plan,” as I need more information to make a solid recommendation. I do, however, have some thoughts on the matter
I visited the Museum of History last week to see for myself the condition of the current building in order to try and answer this question and came away with these thoughts:
- 1. The Museum staff is doing an exceptional job of increasing attendance given the building and location they’re working with.
- 2. The building has two major issues that don’t support spending significant sums to repair.
I then spoke with the county’s Director of Facilities and learned 3 things:
- 1. The estimated fully occupied operating costs of the King Louie building are $136,000.
- 2. The current operating costs of the unoccupied building are $60,000.
- 3. The latest proposal to the Board used 44,500 square feet of the 60,000 available square footage
Rachel Sciolaro (District 1 Commissioner candidate)
The best plan for the King Louie building is to make a decision to sell it. The building can’t continue to sit unused and to deteriorate. Since the county purchased the building in 2011, there has been different proposals brought forward of what to do with the King Louie building. Examples included Johnson County Museum, the new Enterprise Center and the list continues. One idea would be to have a Johnson County Museum in close proximity to the Museum at Prairiefire.
Ron Shaffer (District 1 Commissioner candidate)
The purchase of the King Louie building in 2011 was at a cost well below the market price of similar commercial properties in the area. Additional expenditures have gone into stabilization, abatement, and removal of existing interior finishes and equipment, all in order to prevent further deterioration of the building and prepare it for future construction. I believe the building is a good investment due to its prime location along the Metcalf corridor and its potential for cost effective re-use. Vision Metcalf has already attracted developers who want to re-invest in the areas of 79th and Metcalf and 95th and Metcalf. Currently strategic plans for the King Louie building are under development and budgetary considerations are already in place through 2016.
The Johnson County Museum, which has been damaged by flooding has caused serious mold issues, is not compliant with disability regulations, does not have adequate space for exhibits and public programs and has long been identified as a facility that needs to be replaced. A search for a new location in late 2009 identified the iconic King Louie building as a possible location.
Additionally, other county services such as the Advance Voting Center, United Community Services of Johnson County, the Arts Council of Johnson County and the Enterprise Center of Johnson County could all be housed at this location, as well as other appropriate county and civic agencies. By bringing these agencies together under one roof, we will eliminate rent payments for these organizations and create an environment for collaboration.
A building that houses several county offices, services and facilities, where staff and citizens can gather, has the potential to become a “town center” with an atmosphere for educational, cultural, civic, entrepreneur and other civic purposes. The King Louie building could become a historic landmark with a new purpose.
Alex DiCarlo (District 1 Commissioner candidate)
The best plan is to generate revenue from the county’s investment. The King Louie property must have value, and the county needs to either recoup its investment on the open market or create a source of revenue from the property. After seeing the success of other stadiums/venues in the area, I propose the county create an event center like the Sporting KC Arena or the Sprint Center. The Sprint Center is one of the most profitable arenas in the country and it doesn’t have a marquee tenant. Concerts, performing arts, and/or a sports franchise would bring a sense of community pride, and my past experience as the head coach of the Jr. Mavericks Hockey Team may make me a little biased, but the benefits of sports entertainment is far reaching; with youth programs, economic benefits, and a sense of community. If done right, an event venue could make sense for every one in our community.
Laura McConwell (District 1 Commissioner candidate)
The King Louie structure is iconic. Anyone who grew up in the area bowled or skated there. With the elimination of the Dickinson Theater and White Haven, King Louie was the last large structure from that era of our suburban development. It is not particularly attractive but it was well built, is in good shape and can be used for a number of purposes. Because King Louie is within the Vision Metcalf study area and along the Metcalf corridor, it provides easy access for both residents and visitors of Johnson County.
From what I have read thus far, utilization of this property will reduce some of the county’s expenses and capital needs. For instance, the Johnson County Museum’s building is in extreme disrepair. The estimate cost to remediate and upgrade the current museum location exceeds the costs associated with King Louie. The museum only requires a portion of the space leaving plenty of room for other uses. With the ease of access and overhead savings, other public services or functions could relocate there. As I understand these, full operation of King Louie would present real operational savings to the County’s budget.
However, before any final decisions are made, the county should work in concert with the stakeholders. I was not involved in the planning for or the purchase of King Louie. It is important to me that we are all part of the process, we understand our options and then we make a decision.
Tomorrow the candidates will respond to item four:
What are your goals for cultivating a strong cultural identity for Johnson County in the next four years? What role should the arts play in Johnson County’s cultural identity, and how should the county be supporting the arts community?