Plans to transform the former King Louie bowling alley and ice skating rink in Overland Park into the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center are now underway.
On Thursday, a kickoff event marked the official start of re-purposing the 1960s-era building for a new use.
Linda Anthony, of Lenexa, remembers bowling and ice skating here years ago. "It's exciting to see it being brought back into something that's very useful to the county and to the city," she says. "We're ready to go."
Nearly 100 metro area residents gathered for remarks by public officials outside the accordion-roofed building at 8788 Metcalf. It's been vacant since 1999.
"Gosh, I didn't expect the size of this crowd to be here for this opening," said Ed Eilert, chair of the board of county commissioners. "Needless to say, we've been working on this for awhile and we're finally here."
County officials in 2011 purchased the building for close to $2 million, with plans to re-locate the Johnson County Museum. Through the years, proposals surfaced for additional options at the site, such as the controversial National Museum of Suburbia, but they didn't receive full funding support or fizzled out.
In March 2015, county commissioners approved a new plan for a Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center. As Eilert described it on Thursday, "We're combining a couple of our excellent county departments into this programmable facility."
The center will now serve as the new location for the Johnson County Museum. The museum's advisory council chair, Julie Hickman, said the museum has outgrown its current space in a former schoolhouse in Shawnee.
"We've had a strategic plan for a facility like this for almost over 10 years, a place where the community can gather, all of the residents," said Hickman.
Other arts and cultural offerings at the center include a 350-seat black box theater, which will allow The Theatre in the Park to offer year-round performances. Johnson County Parks and Recreation plans to expand its arts classes and lessons for children and adults, and a program for emerging artists sponsored by Johnson County Developmental Supports will also be housed here.
The site also provides a location for permanent advance voting and election worker training.
"It fits in great with our whole Vision Metcalf plan, we want to revitalize the entire corridor," said Overland Park City Council President Paul Lyons, "and this building is just right in the heart of it."
The building is scheduled to open in August, in time for advance voting on August 2. But not all construction will be completed at that time. Work on the museum, theater, and classroom space, is slated to continue until the spring of 2017.