An artist’s rendering of King Louie in its hey-day. Johnson County purchased the former ice skating rink and bowling alley in 2011. Rendering courtesy of Johnson County

An artist’s rendering of King Louie in its hey-day. Johnson County purchased the former ice skating rink and bowling alley in 2011. Rendering courtesy of Johnson County

Danedri Thompson
[email protected]
Potential renovations to King Louie will create a county arts and heritage center, house the Johnson County Museum, and establish a permanent advanced voting location. A divided board of county commissioners, acting as a committee of the whole,  agreed to move forward to do further study on the proposal. Funding the project, including initial study, will require formal approval during Johnson County Board of Commissioners meetings in January and February.
The proposal comes at a cost. Officials estimate they’ll need up to $150,000 to fund design and planning.
For project completion, Johnson County officials anticipate upgrades to the building at 8788 Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park will cost $22 million. It would require an an additionally $450,000 of county funds annually for operational costs.
“We think it’s an iconic building that should be preserved as well,” Hannes Zaccharias, county manager told county commissioners during a committee-of-the-whole meeting last week.
Officials estimate approximately 200,000 people would pass through the freshly-renovated King Louie each year.
Members of the Johnson County Board of Commissioners purchased the old skating rink and bowling alley for $1.3 million in 2011. Since then, they’ve spent another $2.3 million to maintain the failing structure, including $415,000 for roof improvements last year.
The building is worth less than the land its on.
“The highest and best use for (King Louie) is the land,” Zaccharias said. He estimated the county would net approximately $850,000 to sell it.
As proposed, the renovation would eventually house a theater that could be used by Theater in the Park (TIIP) during the off-season. The theater space could be leased to other community theater groups for rehearsals and for their performances.
Tim Bair, artistic producing director at TIIP, said he envisioned three TIIP performances each year.
“That would leave lots of weeks for other performance groups to rent the space,” he told the committee.
The TIIP is part of the county parks and recreation district. That district, with limited county commission oversight, is governed by an appointed board with its own taxing authority.
Commissioner John Toplikar wondered what capital investment the parks board would contribute to the project.
Jill Geller, executive director of the Johnson County Parks and Recreation District, said the parks district would be providing management of the renovated facility. The district would also reinvest funds it generates from programming at the site back to additional programming at King Louie.
“That is money the county is basically going to have to cough up,” Toplikar said. “The dollars that we could be making leasing it or leasing part of it to another, private entity.”
Commissioner Jason Osterhaus asked county parks officials what they would do if the county handed them $6 million. Would the parks board use that money to renovate King Louie or would they have other priorities?
“I wouldn’t say our board would place a capital investment in (King Louie) over opening parks,” Geller said. “We’ve set aside $2 million to start developing parks. I would hope it wouldn’t be either-or.”
The renovations would provide more than 22,000 square-feet for theater seating, with seating for between 300 and 350, and rehearsal space, and another 22,000-plus square-feet for museum space.
The existing county museum home is a building that was built in the 1920s, Zaccharias said, and it flooded a few years ago.
“That issue still lingers,” he told the committee. “The building has mold. We have not removed the mold. We have encapsulated the mold.”
Commission Chair Ed Eilert said he was fully supportive of the effort.
“It was obvious in 2009 that a new facility needed to be available for the museum,” Eilert said “…This facility offers the historic museum an opportunity to become engaged in the community sharing the history that currently doesn’t exist. Johnson County has a rich, rich history that we should all remember.”
Some of the project can be funded using revenues already assigned. Commissioners authorized expenditures of up to $6.7 million to secure a permanent advance voting location in 2014. Officials have anticipated, through the county’s capital improvement list (CIP), spending $5.5 million in 2015 to upgrade of move the historical museum.
According to a presentation, only $1.5 million would need to be funded through debt spread out over 20 years.
Commissioner Michael Ashcraft said the county had to work some magic to make the budget work this year, without having the additional debt service.
“That magic is going to be doubling down (next year) even without this,” he said. “This is not just a one-time hit. It’s a generational commitment.”
Several hours prior to the committee meeting, one Johnson County resident asked that commissioners poll their constituents before investing in the project.
“This does not reflect the will of the people of Johnson County,” Charlotte O’Hara, Overland Park, told the commission during a formal meeting. “…This is a tremendously huge expenditure. I know we have problems funding our sheriff’s department and other issues — we always have maintenance of our roads.”
O’Hara once campaigned to be the county chair. She also served in the Kansas Legislature.
“I realize the commission has already spent a tremendous amount of money — $3.6 million,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just better to cut your losses, perhaps sell the property and go on down the road.”
Commissioner Steve Klika, who serves as the commission liaison to the county parks board, said it’s time to make a decision about King Louie.
“We’ve messed with this long enough. It’s time to get that resolved. Whatever loss we’ve got on it right now, it’s only going to get worse,” Klika said.
Four members of the commission, Klika, Jim Allen, Eilert, and Ed Peterson, agreed to move forward on the project. Commissioners Ashcraft, Osterhaus and Toplikar voted against it.
The board of commissioners will consider the formal approval of money for project planning and design during a meeting in January. They’ll be asked to approve the full project expenditure in February.