Three Downtown Sites Pitched for UMKC Conservatory, Westport H.S. Also Candidate

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The historic Westport High School building is being pitched as site for proposed UMKC Conservatory

By Kevin Collison

At least three downtown locations are being pitched for the proposed UMKC Conservatory, including Barney Allis Plaza, according to Downtown Council officials, and the former Westport High School also has emerged as a potential midtown site.

“It’s a beautiful facility,” said David Brain, a partner in KC Sustainable Development Partners, the owner of the historic high school at 315 E. 39th St.

“It already has a performance auditorium with 800 seats and two large gymnasiums that could be dance studios.

“We’re excited about this opportunity and I think it makes a ton of sense.”

In related Conservatory news, Gov. Mike Parson signed legislation June 29 authorizing the State Health and Education Facilities Authority to issue revenue bonds to fund half the project if the legislature approves appropriating funds.

Parson’s support came a year after his predecessor, former Gov. Eric Greitens, vetoed state funding, dealing a devastating blow to civic leaders’ efforts to bring the Conservatory and its hundreds of students and staff to downtown.

Since then, the Julia Irene Kauffman has withdrawn her $20 million pledge from the Downtown Conservatory plan, and the original site across from the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts at 17th and Broadway is no longer available.

Last month, the University of Missouri-Kansas City resumed its search, issuing a request for information (RFI) for a Conservatory for the Performing Arts project that grown to include both the Conservatory of Music and Dance and the UMKC Theater Department.

The new price tag for the 250,000 square-foot facility is $100 million. Half the funding would be sought from private sources. The RFI also requires a minimum of 300 parking spaces for the Conservatory.

UMKC has opened its search to a large area of the urban core from downtown south as far as 63rd Street, including the Volker campus.

In an update to Downtown Council board members this week, Bill Dietrich, president and CEO, said he was aware of three different downtown locations that are preparing to respond to the UMKC Conservatory project RFI.

Barney Allis Plaza is being pitched as a site for the proposed UMKC Conservatory for the Performing Arts.

Board Chairman Nate Orr confirmed one of those downtown sites is Barney Allis Plaza.

“The team we’re working with on the Barney Allis site is the same team we worked with on the 17th and Broadway site,” Orr told the board, referring to the now-defunct previous location.

“The city is working with us on that site and the city would make it financially attractive for the school. It’s one of the most important projects we have have working at the Downtown Council.”

Barney Allis Plaza and its 980-space underground garage are owned by the city.

In a separate interview, Brain confirmed the former Westport High School will be pitched to UMKC. His development group also recently renovated the historic Westport Middle School into a work-share space called Westport Plexpod Commons.

Brain said the Westport High School property has plenty of space for parking and is located on the transit shuttle between the UMKC Volker Campus and its Hospital Hill campus. It’s also 3 1/2 blocks from the proposed 39th Street streetcar station.

“It’s kind of a hybrid,” Brain said. “It’s not on campus but its close to campus.”

Platform Ventures, a real estate firm that’s currently proposing a major downtown redevelopment project, is teaming with KC Development Partners on a potential Conservatory project at Westport High.

As for the other two potential downtown sites, Dietrich declined to offer specifics.

The KCATA is preparing to offer this one-block site on 18th Street for development.

Looking at downtown sites large enough for a Conservatory project, one possible location is a large tract of undeveloped land the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority is seeking development proposals for at 18th and Troost.

Robbie Makinen, president and CEO, said his agency would be receptive to that land being made available for a Conservatory proposal.

“We’re putting the 18th Street property out for all comers,” Makinen said. “If we could connect the Crossroads with the 18th & Vine Jazz District, that would be an ideal situation for us.”

Another potential site is the so-called Denny’s site on the west side of Broadway across from the Kauffman Center.

It gets its name from a Denny’s restaurant currently located there. Copaken Brooks, a prominent downtown real estate firm, controls a large tract between the Interstate 35 ramp and 17th Street.

The property was suggested as a potential Downtown UMKC Arts Campus in a study prepared in 2012. That same study also listed Barney Allis Plaza as a good location.

Officials at Copaken Brooks could not be reached for comment.

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