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Kansas City's Downtown Council Talks New YMCA, Streetcar Expansion And UMKC Conservatory

Courtesy BNIM
A rendering of a proposed downtown YMCA facility in the works. It currently needs around $9 million more in funding.

Plans for a new downtown YMCA, the latest on expanding the Kansas City streetcar and an update on the UMKC downtown arts campus were discussed by the Downtown Council of Kansas City Thursday.

YMCA could wrap fundraising this summer

Backers of a planned Downtown YMCA that would incorporate the facade of the historic Lyric Theater as part of the $30 million project hope to wrap up fundraising this summer.

David Byrd, CEO of the YMCA, told the Downtown Council board Thursday that $21 million has been raised and anticipated the remaining funding would be lined up by this summer.

The latest design by BNIM architects for the facility was revealed. It calls for the front facade and historic lobby of the vacant theater building to be retained and an addition with pool, fitness center, indoor track and gym built behind it.

Byrd said the original concept of renovating the entire theater to house the YMCA facilities and building a parking garage proved too costly, with donors also balking at paying for a garage.

Market studies indicate the new facility, which would take up to 2 ½ years to build, would attract 5,000 members and serve up to 15,000 people. In addition to the exercise facilities, the planned Downtown Y would serve as a major community center.

Credit Courtesy BNIM
A rendering of the front lobby of the proposed downtown YMCA facility that would take over the old Lyric Theater.

Downtown Kansas City has been without a YMCA since 1983.

“We’re the largest American city without a downtown YMCA,” Byrd said. “If we build it, they will come.”

There has been a smaller YMCA operating in the Quality Hill neighborhood of downtown. Byrd said that branch would close and its operations merged with the new Lyric facility.

He also said the YMCA wants to name the planned new facility after Phil Kirk, the late chairman of DST Realty, who led the early effort to support a downtown YMCA.

Streetcar expansion voter deadline nears

The Kansas City streetcar celebrates its first birthday Saturday at Union Station and is expected to host its two-millionth rider either late today or tomorrow.

Supporters hope the success of the 2.2-mile starter line linking the River Market and Crown Center boosts the effort now underway to extend the line down Main Street to the University of Missouri at Kansas City.

“The success of the streetcar is apparent to everybody,” Matthew Webster, vice president of Ameritas, told the Downtown Council board Thursday morning.

“Ridership is ahead of estimates and development is booming along the line. We hope it transfers to voter support this time ... our greatest challenge is getting the word out to people.”

The Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance is leading the campaign to persuade voters living along the planned Main Street expansion route to support the effort.

The deadline for people living within the proposed new Transportation Development District to vote on the plan is May 23. People within the current downtown streetcar TDD also can vote because it would be merged if the project moves forward.

Kansas City Councilwoman Jolie Justus told the board the TDD vote is challenging because participants must cast their ballot through a state-mandated process. The TDD election is being run by the 16th Circuit Court and ballots are available on its website.

Justus said canvassers have been hired to educate people living within the proposed TDD expansion boundaries about the project and if necessary, help them to cast their votes.

“This is something we really need to do to keep this city moving forward,” Justus said. “You have until May 23, don’t let it sneak up on you. It’s quite a process.”

What’s being billed as a “Happy First Birthday KC Streetcar!” event will be held at the Union Station East Plaza this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Food trucks, birthday cake, art, clowns and a ‘truck-a-palooza’ exhibit for kids are planned.

UMKC prepares for governor's review of conservatory funding

State funding for the planned downtown Conservatory of Dance and Music, called the “largest project in UMKC history,” is expected to be considered by Gov. Eric Greitens after lawmakers adjourn May 12.

“I’m not quite ready to uncork the champagne until after the governor’s signature,” Bill Dietrich, president and CEO of the Downtown Council, said Thursday.

Dietrich told the Downtown Council board the governor is expected to review the funding plan after the legislative session ends.

The $48 million in matching state funding for the $96 million project planned near the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts already has won overwhelming support from the Missouri House and Senate. The remaining $48 million is coming from private sources and the city.

Outgoing UMKC Conservatory Dean Peter Witte was saluted by the Downtown Council for pushing the project, which supporters believe will be a major new downtown asset with 700 students and faculty.

Witte is leaving for a new post at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, this summer.

He told the council the idea was first suggested to him in 2009 by Jonathan Kemper, chairman of the Commerce Bank Kansas City Region.

It later was boosted by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce when the downtown arts campus was named one of its “Big 5 Ideas” in 2011.

Julia Irene Kauffman, who spearheaded the Kauffman Center that opened in 2011, provided a vital funding boost when the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation pledged $20 million to the UMKC downtown conservatory proposal in 2013.

“We are staring at the precipice of the largest project in UMKC history,” Witte said.

The conservatory dean praised Warren Erdman, the Kansas City Southern railroad executive and veteran of state and federal politics, who led the lobbying effort in Jefferson City.

“Warren Erdman took this from a city and arts perspective to a statewide education perspective,” Witte said. “Next time you see Warren, buy him lunch, he’s really remarkable.”

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

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