Johnson County got a deal on King Louie. Turning it into a national suburbia museum won't be a bargain 

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That study purports to describe how the foundation might grow from a five-figure fundraiser to a seven-figure one. Larry Meeker, president of the foundation, declined to share that study with The Pitch. He says: "The bottom line is, we've settled on a very doable plan for moving in, building a base for further fundraising starting with a base of $2 million to freshen things up, get us moved in [to King Louie] and, if all goes well there, begin the fundraising for expanding the fundraising."

The expanded fundraising that Meeker is talking about would move the foundation toward a much bigger goal: Putting together another concept museum that backers want at King Louie, the National Museum of Suburbia and Suburban Policy Forum.

The museum would pay homage to the phenomenon of suburban sprawl, cul-de-sacs, The Feminine Mystique author Betty Friedan, and other testaments to the out-migration from urban centers.

To do that — and to develop a museum that may have to sustain itself — the museum would have to raise almost $10 million on its own.

The Johnson County Museum today receives more than $600,000 a year from the county to support its operations.

"I'm firmly convinced, no doubt in my mind whatsoever, that this is a good idea," Meeker tells The Pitch. "That it is something that will be acted upon at some point in the future, here or somewhere else."

Others don't envision a Johnson County–based national suburbia museum as a slam dunk.

"If activities can be fully funded by the private sector, that's good," says Johnson County Chairman Ed Eilert. "I think it's a concept that, if it were to happen, needs a lot more work. I hate to discourage somebody who is thinking outside of the box. There are realities to making those kinds of concepts come to pass. It's going to be very, very difficult."


Eilert insists that Johnson County didn't buy King Louie to house a national museum of suburbia.

But the county's decision to buy the property at 8788 Metcalf raised eyebrows among those who pay attention to Johnson County politics.

Built in 1959, the 70,000-square-foot King Louie is the sort of structure that local officials call, perhaps euphemistically, "iconic."

Its architecture, then and now, seems more like a ski chalet in Loveland, Colorado, than a bowling alley. But, with its dozens of lanes and its ice-skating rink, the place was a popular suburban destination for decades, until it fell on hard times in the late 2000s.

The building was owned by Western Development Co., a Shawnee real-estate entity controlled by John Mitchell, who lives near the Country Club Plaza. By the end of its life as a teen hangout, the building was riddled with codes violations, ranging from an assortment of electrical hazards to frozen sprinkler pipes to chicken wire covering exterior windows. It closed for business in 2009 and went up for sale.

Not long after, Johnson County staffers started looking around for a new museum site.

King Louie was on the county's shortlist, but Mitchell's $3.5 million asking price seemed exorbitant. The bargain shoppers at the county crossed the bowling alley off the list and moved on, exploring dozens of possibilities for the new museum site, mostly in the 20,000- to 30,000-square-foot range (with an eye to an eventual expansion).

Among the six locations toured by county officials was the developing Lenexa City Center at 87th Street Parkway and Renner Boulevard. Former Johnson County Commissioner Doug Wood wanted to combine the museum with the Oak Park Branch of the Johnson County Library. None of the ideas gained consensus.

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