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With Greitens Gone, Kansas City Lawmakers Revive Hope For UMKC Conservatory Campus

Centric Projects/Kansas City Repertory Theatre
UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance classes, offices, rehearsal and performance spaces are located in a few buildings across the Volker campus, including the James C. Olson Performing Arts Center.

A $50 million funding proposalfor a new building for the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance, sponsored by Rep. Noel Shull, R-Kansas City, never made it out of committee during the Missouri General Assembly session that just ended.

Shull proposed the legislation after now-former Gov. Eric Greitens' 2017 veto of $48 million in state bond funding for a downtown Conservatory campus (also sponsored by Shull).

Greitens vetoed the original legislation despite bipartisan support and the fact that the state money was supposed to match $48 million already raised by UMKC. That included a $20 million pledge from the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation, which withdrew the pledge after Greitens' veto. 

Greitens' departure raises questions about whether the legislature will once again support the project under the new administration of Gov. Mike Parson, who took office on Friday.

"I really am hopeful again that we will be able to move forward with the Conservatory next session," said Rep. Judy Morgan, D-Kansas City, who co-sponsored Shull's legislation.

KCUR was not able to speak with Shull, but Morgan said she believed he would file the bill again.

"He's very committed to it," she said, "and we can go forward through the process like we did last year. And when it gets to the governor's desk, hopefully, he (Parson) will sign it this time."

Morgan also said she believed Parson would be willing to sit down with Kansas City leaders, unlike his predecessor.

"Greitens would not talk to the high-level folks that were really doing all the work to get the funding. And I don't think you'll find the same thing from Parson."

Warren Erdman, chief administration officer with Kansas City Southern Railway Co. and chairman emeritus of the MU System, lobbied legislators and the governor's office to support the bonding issue last summer.

"I'm very bullish and optimistic," said Erdman, a Republican, about Parson's commitment to the Conservatory and to higher education in general.

The General Assembly's majority endorsement for the Conservatory in 2017, Erdman said, "demonstrates broad urban and rural support" from Missouri leadership. He said he was hopeful that the project would get that same level of support again. 

Officials at the UMKC Conservatory declined to comment other than in a written statement from John Martellaro, director of media relations at UMKC.

"UMKC is continuing to explore all options to build our new Conservatory," he wrote, "and we will continue that important work, as we have been for some time." 

KCUR is licensed to the University of Missouri Board of Curators and is an editorially independent community service of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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