Archive for Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Union Station leaders say strategy needed

January 17, 2006


— Union Station board members and managers say they must present some financial strategy to overcome the station's longstanding economic problems this year.

While finances have improved, the 2006 operating budget still includes $3.5 million from a dwindling endowment and an additional $600,000 in corporate generosity to keep the station open.

"We need a come-to-Jesus decision," board member Peter Yelorda said during a recent budget discussion. "What is our strategy? The clock is ticking. This is one of the most critical things we've got to do."

The discussion will include whether to ask the public for more financial support for the station, which reopened in 1999 after Kansas City-area voters approved a sales tax to pay $118 million of its $263 million renovation costs.

Kansas City voters could be asked to raise the current 2 mill museum levy. Raising it to 10 mills would generate an additional $4.8 million for Union Station and for the Kansas City Museum at Corinthian Hall, said Bud Jeffress, the station's chief financial officer.

Another option is to seek public or corporate subsidies to help pay to heat and cool the vast station's public spaces.

It costs about $1 million a year for the station's utilities, Jeffress said, with about $800,000 of that for heating and cooling public areas like the main hall and Science City. The rest of the space is covered by private leases.

Yelorda, chairman of the board of directors' finance committee, has suggested asking a few corporations, perhaps utility providers, to consider underwriting the climate-control costs.

But Terrie Rouse, station vice president and museum director, said the open spaces are a public trust and suggested the city might pay those those utility bills.

The executive committee of the board approved the 2006 operating budget but has not yet acted on a proposed capital budget, which includes about $3 million for new projects.

The new proposals include renovating the food court into a Harvey House diner, creating an Irish pub on the lower level and installing a family-oriented game venue on the lowest level.

Those projects would require corporate fundraising or use of the remaining endowment, which will be $6.5 million to $7 million at the end of the year. That is all that is left from an initial $40 million, which was raised through private funds.

The station needs to have as many money-making projects as it can, officials agreed.

"We can't just sit here and not do anything," Jeffress said, "or else we're just burning through the endowment."


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