Steve Rose: Purchase of iconic King Louie might still be a bargain
02/03/2015 5:43 PM
Some critics have referred to the 1960-era King Louie facility at 87th Street and Metcalf Avenue as a white elephant.
No, it turns out it was a sow’s ear, and the Johnson County Commission is about to make a silk purse out of it. There may be a happy ending to the controversial purchase.
It seemed at the time that it probably was not the best call by the commission to buy the 76,000-square-foot former bowling alley and ice rink for $1.95 million in 2011. Some commissioners bought into the idea of a National Museum of Suburbia, which never went anywhere.
Now, after some false starts, it appears the commission has come up with a dandy idea as to what to do with this iconic building.
As proposed, King Louie would house the Johnson County Museum — a history museum — now housed in a 1927 building in Shawnee that is falling apart. It also would house the All-Electric House, which is part of the exhibit at the museum. That has always been part of the original intent to buy King Louie. In fact, the original estimate in 2009 to relocate and expand the museum in an existing building was $15 million to 20 million.
What is new is the idea of converting the rest of the building into a Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center, including Theatre in the Park productions when it is not performing outside in the warm weather at Shawnee Mission Park. Intensive arts programs also will be part of the concept.
The arts and theater combination would be a massive step in Johnson County toward improving the arts culture in a county previously described by many as a “cultural wasteland.”
In addition, there would be room set aside for an advance voting, which previously was housed in Metcalf South, a now empty mall, probably soon to be razed.
The renovation of King Louie will cost taxpayers $22 million. That is not a small sum, but if King Louie can become what is envisioned, it will be a bargain.
The commission’s majority vote to approve, which could take place next month, is not a done deal.
The vote to approve something like a feasibility study for $150,000 passed on just a 4-3 vote.
Assuming the study provides positive information, especially on costs, one has to wonder why the three dissenting commissioners would not reverse their votes on the final approval and make this a unanimous decision.
The persistent grumblings, which were highlighted in the race for county chairman, were that the county paid too much for the building; and that the cost of remediation was too great for what we were getting.
Those criticisms are no longer valid.
Thanks to some very creative thinking, the idea of making King Louie an arts and culture mecca for the county would make the original purchase look like a very smart idea, as would the additional funding to bring this to reality.
As a bonus, the revitalization of King Louie blends in perfectly with Overland Park’s “Vision Metcalf,” which is an effort to beautify the corridor. Already, there has been great progress, and the redevelopment of Metcalf South will be the capstone. A rundown King Louie could only have become an eyesore.
Now, taxpayers have the opportunity to make King Louie one of the most significant public buildings in Johnson County.
A 7-0 vote may be wishful thinking, but it is not unreasonable.