Requiem for the National Suburbia Museum in Johnson County
Posted by Steve Vockrodt on Wed, Jul 10, 2013 at 3:37 PM
- This old building won’t become an homage to the suburbs.
The most prominent obituary in Tuesday’s Kansas City Star was written by Steve Rose. It announced the death of the National Museum of Suburbia idea in Overland Park.
Rose reported on comments made by Ed Eilert, chairman of the Johnson County Board of Commissioners, who said at a budget hearing recently that the expensive idea to build a monument to the suburbs at the old King Louie West building (right in the middle of a suburb) needed to be “off the table.”
Eilert stopped just short of saying that to The Pitch a little more than a month ago, when the paper was trying to figure out why Johnson County bought King Louie (8788 Metcalf in Overland Park) in 2011, and why it thought building a National Museum of Suburbia was a good idea.
If anyone should know that projects like these have a strong chance of not working out, it’s Eilert.
He served on the first Bi-State Commission that pulled taxes from both sides of the state line to restore Union Station and add to it Science City, a concept that was supposed to generate revenues from visitors to support Union Station’s operations.
“Did not happen, could not happen,” Eilert told The Pitch. “That experience, observing what happened there, you go into a new concept like the [National] Museum of Suburbia, you have capital costs, you have ongoing operating costs. I think those need to be covered by the private sector, if anything happens.”
Good luck with that. Officials with the existing Johnson County Museum in Shawnee were looking forward to trying to raise $10 million as their share in helping build the National Museum of Suburbia at King Louie. But the museum’s fundraising record seemed to show that $10 million would be a tough boat to row; recent years’ tax records show that the museum has drummed up no more than $38,000 in a single year.
Aside from the cost, it was difficult to find many folks who thought that visiting a museum to observe the suburbs, already in abundance all around Kansas City, carried any kind of strong appeal.
Now Johnson County gets to figure out what to do with King Louie. It spent $3.6 million, a figure that includes the $1.95 million purchase price and the rest going to sealing up the code-violation-ridden building.
Johnson County wants to move the current Johnson County Museum from its obscure, water-damaged north-Shawnee location into King Louie. It also plans to move an advance voting center to King Louie from the moribund Metcalf South Shopping Center, along with the Johnson County Enterprise Center.
Eilert thinks the building was a good buy. Many officials refer to it as an “iconic” building, a former bowling alley and ice rink that’s part of Johnson County’s heritage and needs to be preserved.
But people said the same thing about the White Haven Motor Lodge in Overland Park, and Johnson County is no worse off without it.