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UMKC Downtown Arts Campus Gets Powerful Political Ally

Kevin Collison
KCUR 89.3
Buildings have already been demolished at the site of the proposed UMKC arts campus.

Supporters of the proposed downtown University of Missouri-Kansas City campus for the arts have enlisted Warren Erdman, a savvy veteran of Missouri politics, to lead the lobbying effort for $48 million in matching state funds.

“Warren has been fantastically supportive since early on,” says Dean Peter Witte of the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance.

“His understanding of the University of Missouri System and his reputation in the State Legislature are great assets.”

Erdman’s leadership role was discussed during a recent briefing to the Downtown Council about the $96 million arts campus plan. The nonprofit organization has played a key role in supporting the revitalization of downtown Kansas City.

Credit Credit courtesy of Helix Architecture + Design, Inc./HGA
Credit courtesy of Helix Architecture + Design, Inc./HGA
An artist rendering of the future home of the UMKC Downtown Campus for the Arts.

The Downtown Council has assembled a site covering a city block for the proposed campus immediately south of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts between Broadway and Central Street, from 17th to 18th Streets.

Buildings have been demolished and the construction-ready property will be provided to the University of Missouri-Kansas City as part of the $48 million in private donations that have been raised to support the arts campus project. 

Last month, the University Of Missouri Board of Curators voted to ask the Missouri Legislature to approve the $48 million in state matching money required to build the project.

Erdman, a senior executive at Kansas City Southern railroad, has been a longtime Kansas City civic leader. He served on the UM Board of Curators from 2007 to 2013, and was chairman in 2011. He also has had senior staff posts with former U.S. Sen. Kit Bond and former Missouri Gov. John Ashcroft.

“My role will be to support UMKC and the University of Missouri System in their request to the legislature for matching funds,” Erdman says. “I quickly put my shoulder behind the effort.”

Erdman says the Kansas City area legislative delegation is supporting the arts campus funding request. State Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Clay County Republican, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is expected to have a key role.

“It’s a big ask,” Erdman says. “I don’t know if we can get it done in one year, but we’ll do our best. A lot depends on the revenue forecast and the state’s financial performance.”

Erdman and Witte emphasized the proposed new arts campus would not only be a boon to downtown—it would bring 1,000 students and faculty to the area—but critically needed because the Conservatory has outgrown its space on the UMKC campus. It would double the size of the current 54,000 square-foot facility.

“This is not an issue of a shiny thing on the hill,” Witte told the Downtown Council. “We actually have a facilities crunch.”

Kevin Collison is a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3. You can reach him on Twitter @kckansascity. 

Kevin Collison, a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3, writes about downtown Kansas City for his website CityScene KC.
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