Civic Leader Warren Erdman Speaks Out on UMKC Downtown Conservatory Funding Veto: ‘I Played Every Card We Had’

The UMKC Downtown Campus for the Arts is planned for immediately south of the Kauffman Center.

By Kevin Collison

Warren Erdman, the leader of the local effort to obtain state money for the proposed UMKC Downtown Conservatory, warned today that any alternative funding plan in response to the Gov. Greitens’ veto last week should not place a “severe” strain on UMKC.

“The governor decided not to go in that direction, and the (state matching funding) tool is no longer in the tool box,” Erdman told a meeting of the Downtown Council board.

“In advance, the Board of Curators announced they were committing to alternatives for the funding. That’s now the operative plan. The devil is in the details…you decided not to use the (state funding) tool provided, it’s your responsibility for making it happen.

“The worse thing we could do is put severe strain on UMKC to make the project happen.”

Erdman, a senior Kansas City Southern executive and former member of the University of Missouri Board of Curators, led the community lobbying effort to obtain the $48 million in matching state funding for the $96 million Downtown Conservatory project.

The facility is planned for a site south of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts at 17th and Broadway. It is expected to accommodate 700 students and faculty.

Warren Erdman

He was a natural choice because of his extensive political experience having served in senior staff posts for former U.S. Sen. Kit Bond and Missouri Gov. John Ashcroft.

His effort met great success in the Missouri Legislature, winning overwhelming approval in the Senate, 28-4, and the House, 117-39.

But the bill sat on Gov. Greitens desk for two months before he decided to veto the measure.

Erdman said he learned about the governor’s decision shortly before via a voice mail.

“I don’t know why the bill was vetoed,” Erdman said. “There was no practical reason for him to veto it.”

Erdman said the Board of Curators decision to announce it would seek alternative funding sources made it “impractical” for the Legislature to attempt an override, despite the veto-proof majorities the bill received.

“My guess is they (curators) saw the veto coming and gave a vote of confidence to the alternative funding plan,” Erdman said.

In announcing its decision to seek alternative funding, University of Missouri President Mun Choi said last week the university would seek a method “without reliance on state funding,” but offered no details. The plan is expected to be presented to the Board of Curators at its September meeting.

Erdman said both the board and the governor will be “accountable” for whatever financial proposal is put forward.

In the meantime, Erdman said he’ll be meeting with Choi and key local donors at a lunch Friday. Julia Irene Kauffman provided the critical initial donation in 2013 when the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation pledged $20 million to the UMKC Downtown Conservatory plan.

In addition to private donors, the city of Kansas City also pledged $7 million for the project.

“Donors definitely need comfort,” Erdman told the Downtown Council board. “We’ll see what goes of from there.”

Erdman also praised the Downtown Council, an organization of downtown property owners and businesses, for the work its political action committee did in lobbying the state for the project.

“The Downtown Council PAC was the most responsible for getting a veto-proof majority,” he said.

Afterwards, a clearly frustrated Erdman said, “I didn’t leave anything on the table.

“I played every card we had, I just didn’t get over the finish line.”