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Archive for Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Fund raising under way in KC for WWI museum

February 12, 2002

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— Raising the last $15 million for restoration and an expanded museum at the nation's largest World War I memorial falls to a restaurateur and a retired U.S. Army general.

Carl DiCapo and Neal Creighton surveyed their new offices Friday in the basement of Kansas City's Union Station, across the street from the Liberty Memorial.

The office has no computers and just one phone, but the pair are responsible for adding to the $75 million in public and private money already raised or pledged for the project, which is slated for dedication Memorial Day weekend in May.

Creighton, a career Army officer and former chief of the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation, was recruited last year to bring expertise to his role as interim director of the museum project.

DiCapo, the restaurateur and former city parks commissioner, is optimistic the money will be raised by October.

"If God gives us the opportunity, we will make it," he said.

More than $200,000 in public and private money has been raised for the dedication, which will include military flyovers and fireworks. President Bush has tentatively accepted an invitation, as have foreign dignitaries, for the ceremony.

After the fanfare, work is to begin on a 30,000 square-foot museum below the towering memorial's deck to house the memorial's 400,000 World War I artifacts. The memorial currently has only enough space to display a small fraction of the world's largest collection from the Great War.

Construction is expected to take a couple of years.

The 1919 memorial was closed in 1994 after years of neglect. Its deterioration had advanced to the point that its deck was in danger of collapse.

Kansas City voters in 1998 approved a sales tax, now expired, that raised $30 million to restore the monument and establish a $15 million maintenance endowment. The state gave $5 million and the federal government $4.8 million.

Last year, Gov. Bob Holden promised another $10 million from state gambling revenues. The money has yet to be appropriated, but a House panel endorsed such a bill last week.

About $10 million more has been donated or pledged by local corporations, individuals or foundations, DiCapo said.

Kansas City owns the monument, but the Liberty Memorial Assn., of which DiCapo is the newly elected president, owns the artifact collection.

The association is considering becoming a nonprofit organization to contract with the city to manage the monument and museum, which now are run by the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

Creighton said he is convinced the museum can support itself. He and DiCapo said they think the memorial can become a popular site for social functions and tourists.

"Eventually, what we're talking about is to have Liberty Memorial financially independent from the taxpayers," Creighton said. "That may not happen five years from now or 10 years from now, but this thing's going to be there a long time."

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