Archive for Sunday, October 1, 2000

Restoration plans change for Liberty Memorial

Project simplified, but still costly

October 1, 2000


— Parks and recreation officials have unveiled a new, scaled-back plan for the Liberty Memorial restoration project, after some said the previous design was too ornate.

A special half-cent sales tax to restore the memorial expired on Saturday, but officials said the project has enough money to move forward despite delays and criticism.

And despite sluggish private fund-raising to create a larger museum beneath the memorial, parks board Commissioner Bob Lewellen said that he wants to raise the museum's projected price tag from $30 million to $50 million, including an endowment for future maintenance.

So far, officials have about $14.3 million to prepare space for the museum and then to build it.

But Lewellen said the Parks and Recreation Department would mount an aggressive marketing campaign to raise more money.

"We haven't really got into the fund-raising effort because there's been this cloud over the thing trying to stop it," Lewellen said.

He said the department was committed to creating a high-quality museum within the restored Liberty Memorial, built in 1926.

"I really think before this is over the World War I memorial here will be more of a national attraction than any other public edifice we have in Kansas City," Lewellen said.

Still, the new design for the south approach to the memorial does not appease history-minded critics such as Jane Flynn, president of the Historic Kansas City Foundation.

"It will destroy the original architectural design of (H. Van Buren) Magonigle," Flynn said. "In his concept of the Liberty Memorial, and then the execution of it, he did some things that were so subtle that, until you see his plans and have it pointed out to you, you don't realize it. It was magnificently figured out."

The simplified design for access from the south mall was initiated at the request of Mayor Kay Barnes and will be cheaper to build and maintain, parks officials said.

The plan still calls for a descending ramp to take visitors past a reflecting pool to the doors of the planned museum. It also retains a pair of ascending, wheelchair-accessible ramps to the memorial deck.

But the length of the entry garden has been reduced by 45 feet. Landscaping features also have been simplified. A cascading waterfall that was to have run the length of the mall has been eliminated.

The intent of the new design is to provide a graceful entry to the museum while impeding as little as possible the expansive approach to the memorial, with its tower, side buildings and sphinxes.

"We were trying to preserve as much space and use of the mall area as possible," said Karen Daniel, a parks commissioner and chairwoman of a memorial design review committee.

The memorial's restoration is now expected to be completed by early 2002, a delay from the original target date of Veterans Day 2001.

Years in the works

Liberty Memorial was closed in 1994 because of deterioration; in August 1998 Kansas City voters approved an 18-month sales tax to raise money to fix it.

By June of this year, the half-cent tax had generated $30 million for restoration, said Mark McHenry, deputy parks director.

Since then, revenue from the tax has been deposited in a separate endowment account for the memorial's future maintenance. The endowment is expected to be slightly more than $14 million, said David Hunker, assistant city budget manager.

The parks department estimates that the design and construction work on the monument including preparing a shell for the new museum will cost about $40 million.

Critics accuse the parks department of improperly mixing local tax funds for restoration with other dollars for the museum, in violation of the city ordinance for the project.

But McHenry said the costs above $30 million are covered by other funding sources that are permitted to prepare the shell for the future museum. Those sources include money from the federal government, the state and donations from individuals and organizations.

Assuming no more delays, Lewellen said, the museum could be open by 2004.

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