UMKC Downtown Arts Campus Funding to be Considered by Governor in Mid-May

The planned UMKC Downtown Arts Campus would be immediately south of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

By Kevin Collison

State funding for the planned downtown Conservatory of Dance and Music, called the “largest project in UMKC history,” is expected to be considered by Gov. Eric Greitens after lawmakers adjourn May 12.

“I’m not quite ready to uncork the champagne until after the governor’s signature,” Bill Dietrich, president and CEO of the Downtown Council, said Thursday.

Dietrich told the Downtown Council board the governor is expected to review the funding plan after the legislative session ends next Friday.

The $48 million in matching state funding for the $96 million project planned near the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts already has won overwhelming support from the Missouri House and Senate. The remaining $48 million is coming from private sources and the city.

Outgoing UMKC Conservatory Dean Peter Witte was saluted by the Downtown Council for pushing the project, which supporters believe will be a major new downtown asset with 700 students and faculty.

Witte is leaving for a new post at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. this summer.

He told the council the idea was first suggested to him in 2009 by Jonathan Kemper, chairman of the Commerce Bank Kansas City Region.

It later was boosted by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce when the downtown arts campus was named one of its “Big 5 Ideas” in 2011.

Julia Irene Kauffman, who spearheaded the Kauffman Center that opened in 2011, provided a vital funding boost when the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation pledged $20 million to the UMKC downtown conservatory proposal in 2013.

“We are staring at the precipice of the largest project in UMKC history,” Witte said.

The conservatory dean praised Warren Erdman, the Kansas City Southern railroad executive and veteran of state and federal politics, who led the lobbying effort in Jefferson City.

“Warren Erdman took this from a city and arts perspective to a statewide education perspective,” Witte said. “Next time you see Warren, buy him lunch, he’s really remarkable.”

This article appeared originally on the KCUR public radio website.