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

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Then King Louie's sellers, who were represented by real-estate firm Kessinger/Hunter, lowered the asking price to $2.5 million and indicated a willingness to perhaps go down even further. Joe Waters, director of facilities for Johnson County, brought the idea of buying the discounted King Louie to the Johnson County Board of Commissioners in November 2011. He said the sellers wanted to close the deal by the end of 2011 for tax purposes.

So the Johnson County Commission did Western Development Co. a solid and voted to have the building purchased by the end of 2011 — just one week after the deal was first presented.

Commissioners, concerned that the upcoming holidays would prevent a December quorum, quickly voted November 17 to buy the building for $1.95 million; they also voted to allocate another $1.6 million to protect the building from the elements. Then–Johnson County Commissioner David Lindstrom, whom Kessinger/Hunter employed in the 1970s and '80s, was among those who voted to approve the purchase.

Western Development's $193,000 mortgage on the property, dating back to 2003, was paid off shortly after Johnson County Commissioners voted to approve the deal. The $1.95 million initially came from the county's reserve fund, basically a savings account for the county government to pay for unexpected costs such as, say, a damaging ice storm.

A loan was later taken from UMB Bank to replenish the reserve fund, as rating agencies were warning governments about keeping up adequate reserve levels.

Michael Ashcraft, a Johnson County commissioner whose district largely covers Olathe and Lenexa, had reservations about the way the building was bought and the county's plans for it.

Johnson County was still in belt-tightening mode from a deep recession. Officials had begun publicly contemplating closing libraries and cutting staff across various departments — only to throw seven figures at a building for a possible county museum.

"I really have become much more ardent and much more concerned about the acquisition," Ashcraft tells The Pitch. "Before, I was willing to talk about it and learn and see what the deal was. I had hesitancy at first. I'm just not in the game in terms of being a supporter of it. I think there are lots of other things we can do to support the museum and the history of Johnson County. The acquisition of a facility like that — because we had no plan and we're trying to make a plan, we're trying to rationalize the acquisition now to put a bus stop there or a bus park there and move other agencies in there. It's like, no wonder people question how we do government when we make acquisitions like this and we don't have a clear direction and clear utility for precious resources."

Ashcraft would rather send resources to Johnson County Developmental Supports, which assists people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD). The cost to serve someone needing that type of assistance is $35,000–$40,000 a year, with 60 percent covered by the feds. The waiting list for services is a lengthy six to eight years.

"I like museums," Ashcraft tells The Pitch. "We've got limited resources. That [IDD] population is the gold standard."

Eilert says the county bought the right building at the right price.

"I had a chance encounter with a local real-estate developer on an airplane flight to D.C.," he says. "This individual was going to look at some property on the East Coast, and the story was in the newspaper a day or two earlier. He said, 'I've been watching that property,' and he said, 'You got a heck of a deal.' "


The old King Louie building won't house just the Johnson County Museum. It's expected to become the new advance voting center, replacing the location at Metcalf South Mall, which is due to be razed for redevelopment.

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