Kansas City is being asked to contribute $7 million to support the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s proposed Downtown Campus for the Arts. David Eulitt HGA/Helix UMKC
Kansas City is being asked to contribute $7 million to support the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s proposed Downtown Campus for the Arts. David Eulitt HGA/Helix UMKC

Yael T. Abouhalkah

UMKC’s stealthy $7 million bid for Kansas City tax dollars

By Yael T. Abouhalkah

abouhalkah@kcstar.com

September 07, 2016 6:00 AM

Kansas City taxpayers are being asked at the last minute to contribute $7 million to help the University of Missouri-Kansas City take its next big step toward building a Downtown Campus for the Arts.

The project is worthwhile.

But the stealthy way UMKC and city officials put together the request for funds is unfortunate.

The $96 million project long has been publicized as needing $48 million in “private” funds to match the $48 million in “public” funds that the state of Missouri will be asked to put into the deal.

There’s been little if no mention of dipping into Kansas City taxpayer funds to get it done.

Yet last week, six City Council members introduced a resolution to provide the $7 million and “directing the city manager to identify funds to meet the city’s contribution.”

The council’s plans and zoning committee this afternoon will consider the request. A UMKC spokesman on Tuesday indicated that music and dance conservatory dean Peter Witte would attend, presumably to answer any questions.

And, if advanced as expected, the bid for tax dollars would go to the full council on Thursday.

If only other projects could get promises of that much money so quickly out of City Hall.

Kansas Citians have heard plenty about this appealing project for the last five years. The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce has made it a Big 5 priority.

Private fundraising did not go as quickly as once hoped. But in March of this year, UMKC reportedly got within shouting distance of the $48 million goal of raising private money.

And in June the University of Missouri System Board of Curators approved a UMKC request to seek the $48 million in state funds from the General Assembly in the 2017 session. UMKC officials said they had raised the $48 million in private funds. That announcement contained no information about any $7 million bid for Kansas City tax dollars.

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City officials point out that the city contribution would result in a great facility that would serve upwards of 700 students. And that local money won’t be provided unless the state commits its portion of public funds. Of course, that’s just common sense.

City Manager Troy Schulte has said the city will be able to find the money for the UMKC project after it pays off debt on a few downtown parking garages. If that happens, though, those funds won’t be available for other future city priorities.

The behind-closed-doors aspects of the $7 million contribution for this downtown project isn’t a deal killer.

But it is another example of how public officials like to privately put together deals using tax dollars, then rush them through City Hall.

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