A vision of the possibilities

Very rarely do you have an opportunity to truly be part of something bigger than yourself. Something with multiple stakeholders, thousands of beneficiaries and the chance to leave a lasting, important legacy on a community that you love.

That was the ever-present contagious spirit of the Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 delegation trip to Kansas City, Missouri last week. The goal being to learn from people who have been through something very similar to what we are about to embark upon, and to hear about the process they went through to pull their community together to achieve an extraordinary outcome.

Besides engaging in a public private partnership that encompassed all of the Kansas City performing arts groups, and raising an incredible amount of money to do it, this community was also successful with a very complex community and bi-state redevelopment effort at Union Station. An effort that was not an initial success but eventually blossomed into an amazing asset for the community while honoring its historical significance.

Never before have we been a part of something so exciting with such electric synergy between numerous and diverse organizations. If nothing else, the trip left an indelible mark on all who attended – a mark of shared exhilaration that something incredible and meaningful can be achieved by working together in Sarasota.

Attendees included representatives from Visit Sarasota County, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Van Wezel Foundation, The Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota Orchestra, Community Foundation of Sarasota County, HR&A Advisors, and of course, the dedicated effort of volunteer coordinator Michael Klauber.

On the very first night, Klauber instructed the group to “Think big or go home. But, we need to be smart,” he said. “We have the first leg of the “three-legged stool” in place with the Sarasota City Commission adopting our unified community voice. The next piece is the work that the Orchestra and the Van Wezel are doing to assess their future needs coupled with the Ballet’s input. The last piece is the work the city team is doing to show us what is possible on the city-owned property. By this fall, we will have that information, plus the support of our 40 stakeholder organizations – with thousands of people within those groups. Then we will need to decide how to move forward by coupling our vision with discipline and best practice community redevelopment. As we continue to look at our Sarasota Bayfront from the 10,000-foot level, we are here in Kansas City to continue that conversation.”

Roxie Jerde, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, lived in Kansas City for 35 years before moving to Sarasota. She accompanied the group and led a thorough tour of the city.

“All of the energy that has been happening in Sarasota with our cultural assets is just amazing,” said Jerde. “I am so thrilled that you can come learn from what was accomplished here, in building a one-of-kind, state-of-the-art preforming arts center. It was a difficult road here in Kansas City before this all came to fruition. It took some courage and some patience and tenacity to really come together, and so there is a tremendous opportunity to be here and learn together; all of us are smarter than one of us,” she said.

After a tour of the city highlights and architecture, the group arrived at what they had come to see. The 285,000-square- foot, four-year-old Kauffman Center of the Performing Arts, set high atop a grassy hill with magnificent 180-degree views of the city.

Located in the once dilapidated Crossroads Arts District, the hall features 300 performances every year by resident companies, including the Kansas City Ballet, Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Kansas City Symphony. These groups have completely revitalized a once tattered portion of the city.

“I left the area for five years and came back after the center had been open for six months,” said Paul Schofer, president and CEO of the Kauffman Center of the Performing Arts. “I’ll never forget it. It was the first week of April and someone said it’s First Friday and thousands of people will flood into the Crossroads Arts District tonight. I didn’t believe them because even in the five-year span I was gone, nobody came down here. I was completely blown away because thousands of people did indeed transcend on the district and it was just fabulous – it has just transformed the entire community.”

Besides the resident company performances, the center also welcomes more than 70 community arts organizations, 100 private events per year and features “Kansas City Presents” shows. With a volunteer army of over 1,700 strong, the hall also boasts 1,400 panes of glass and has had more than 1.5 million guests walk through its doors since 2011, including 150,000 local students for matinee performances.

Julia Irene Kauffman recounted for our group about how the idea came to be. “My mother was told that after she passed there would be a lot of money in the family foundation. She said she wanted to use the money to build a performing arts center, and she died six weeks later, so that became my mission,” said Kauffman.

After securing the land, the Kauffman Foundation donated the initial $150 million gift to launch the project. The Missouri Development Finance Board approved the performing arts center’s application for $25 million in state tax credits over a two-year period in which donors would reduce their income tax by 50 cents for every dollar contributed. The city also agreed to pay for the $47 million multi-level parking structure. The committee selected renowned international architect Moshe Safdie for the project due to his record for coming in on time and on budget and for his philosophy of designing extroverted and iconic buildings around the world.

Together with trusted advisors and the committee, Kauffman and team traveled far and wide for advice.

“We listened to everyone we could – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, and that put us in a position to lead this initiative,” said Lou Smith, trusted Kauffman family advisor and board member who is well known for his inspired introduction of Willie Nelson when he recently performed at the Center. “What’s happened here is one of the most significant endeavors the city has ever undertaken, and I have been here for more than 40 years. Even though the building has the Kauffman name, people of Kansas City see the Kauffman Center as being owned by the entire community,” he said.
At a total cost of $373 million, much of the remaining funds came from smaller donors like those wanting their children’s handprints forever imprinted on the walls, or those who wanted to sponsor a seat in the hall or theater.

Construction took 56 months to complete, and while they are continuously tweaking procedures and “learning from the building”, as Schofer says, this home for the Kansas City cultural collective has also become a true beacon for redevelopment that has sparked somewhat of a renaissance in Kansas City.

“The hope was that the new facilities would also allow the community’s performing arts groups to “raise the bar”, said Smith. “The Kauffman Center has brought three of our most significant arts organizations under one roof and they have all raised it up a notch. They know when they perform here, it is like welcoming Kansas City residents into their new shared home, and there is this intense sense of pride and ownership on all sides. We hope you can achieve the same sense of place in Sarasota.”