Kansas City Museum's Future in Flux Amid Turmoil
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Supporters of the Kansas City Museum are concerned about its future amid continued turmoil with leaders of Union Station.
The dispute intensified recently when Union Station CEO George Guastello fired the museum's on-site director, Christopher Leitch, without offering a public explanation. Meanwhile, the museum's advisory board is considering a business plan that is based on breaking the contract that requires Union Station to manage the facility located at the city-owned Corinthian Hall.
Guastello told The Kansas City Star the station intends to continue managing the Kansas City Museum as required by its 2007 contract with the city. However, he said, the museum's collection mostly belongs to Union Station and Guastello said "that's not negotiable."
The advisory board is pursuing its own tax-exempt designation to raise money for the museum. A draft business plan commissioned by the advisory board says the museum's credibility and ability to raise money requires it to be professionally accredited.
"Unfortunately, while managed by Union Station, a mixed mission organization, the museum cannot recover institutional accreditation," states the plan.
Katrina Henke, a supporter of the Kansas City Museum and a Union Station board member, questioned the advisory board's role.
"It's been confusing," she said. "The (advisory board is) supposed to be an oversight to make sure tax dollars are used properly, (but) they seem to be wanting to manage, which is ironic because that's what the contract with Union Station is to do."
The museum has been housed at Corinthian Hall since 1940. It was managed for decades by the private Kansas City Museum Association before the association merged with Union Station in 2000. The station now oversees about $1.4 million in annual property-tax revenue dedicated to the museum and its collections.
After tensions arose between the city and Union Station over the museum, the museum advisory board was created to keep the City Council informed about its operations. In 2006, a legal battle erupted over ownership of the collections and rights to the trademark "Kansas City Museum."
A compromise in 2007 led to 20-year contract with Union Station to manage the facility. That compromise stipulated that Union Station owned the Native American objects in the collection and those of equestrian Loula Long Combs, while the city owned other items.
Also in 2007, the Kansas City Museum lost its professional accreditation because of Union Station's financial instability. Union Station's finances have improved since then and it has finished in the black in each of the last three years. Meanwhile, the city has invested more than $10 million in repairs to Corinthian Hall, although twice that much is needed to achieve a goal of restoring the lower floor to period rooms and to prepare the upper levels for exhibits and education space.
The building has been largely closed to the public since 2008 and the collections, most of them in storage, are being curated by Union Station.