By Kevin Collison
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum has launched an ambitious fundraising effort to develop a campus at 18th and The Paseo that would combine a new 30,000 square-foot building with the historic Paseo YMCA.
With a lead-off contribution of $1 million from Bank of America, the institution dedicated to the history of one of the great unsung sports stories in American history has begun what it’s calling its “Pitch for the Future” campaign.
“Now is the time to continue to dare to dream as we look at building a Negro Leagues campus as the gateway into historic 18th and Vine,” Bob Kendrick, museum president, said at a press conference this week.
Then, receiving a symbolic check from Matt Linski, Bank of America Kansas City president, Kendrick quipped:
“That’s one of about $25 more million we won’t have to get, but hey you can’t get to 25 without one and I couldn’t be more pleased without the continued support of Bank of America.”
While the $25 million fundraising effort is a major league lift, Kendrick has proven adept at raising money from national sources.
In recent years, big league players have contributed $1 million, the NLBM struck a licensing agreement with the Kansas City Monarchs minor league team, a fundraising video that featured pitches from four U.S. presidents yielded $200,000 and Congress agreed to mint coins to honor the League’s centennial that was expected to yield $6 million.
The kickoff event was attended by U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver III; Mayor Quinton Lucas; Frank White, Jackson County executive; Royals’ owner John Sherman, and Kathy Nelson of the KC Sports Commission.
“This is transformative for Kansas City,” Lucas said. “When people talk about what is the brand of Kansas City, there is no better brand we export than the Negro League Baseball Museum.”
For now, the only donation announced at the event was from Bank of America.
“This funding will enable the NLBM to provide the latest state of the art technology that will be used to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity through the lens of America’s unsung baseball heroes who overcame tremendous social adversity to play baseball,” according to a press release.
The Pendulum architecture firm designed the proposed new building which would occupy what’s now a vacant lot north of the historic YMCA building. The Negro League was established at the Y in 1920.
The plan calls for the YMCA to be renamed the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center after Negro League baseball great and Kansas City ambassador Buck O’Neil. Together, they’ll form what Kendrick called a Negro Leagues Campus.
In making his announcement, Kendrick acknowledged there have been efforts to relocate the NLBM to a more high-profile area. But he noted its location is closely associated with O’Neil, who died in 2006 and was named to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022.
“This was the place for his museum to be and we never waivered on that decision,” he said
“There were better opportunities for this museum that would have been more foot traffic, maybe even more resources, but I don’t believe 18th and Vine would have been what it is today if it had turned its back on it.”
In making its donation, Linski said Bank of America has been a strong supporter of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum since it opened in 1990.
“Our commitment recognizes the importance, culturally and economically, of the 18th & Vine District to Kansas City today and we hope it will be an example for other funders to follow,” he said.
To coincide with the donation, Major League Baseball alumni players David DeJesus, Rajai Davis, and Dexter Fowler will take part in a Bank of America “Play It Forward” baseball clinic on Saturday for 50 area youth from the YMCA of Greater Kansas City.
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The museum is revered around the country by players and fans alike. I think a grassroots effort could absolutely get them there.
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