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It's also expected to have space for the Enterprise Center of Johnson County, a business incubator hosted by the county that pays $200,000 in rent to Lenexa. Other county agencies might move in, too.
It's not certain whether the proposed National Museum of Suburbia, coupled with a scholarly Suburban Policy Institute, would take space in King Louie.
Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, is home to the National Center for Suburban Studies. It's seen as the pre-eminent location for academic research into suburbia and related issues, such as problems associated with planning and redeveloping aging suburban towns. Few other academic programs for suburban studies exist outside Hofstra other than an on-again, off-again center at the University of California–Riverside.
Christopher Niedt, academic director for Hofstra's center, says the concept of a suburban museum has to extend beyond sentimentality.
"It also needs to be about more than suburban nostalgia," he says. "It has to ask hard questions about what was good and what was bad about suburban living."
There hasn't been a market study or a feasibility study to determine the demand for a national museum of suburbia in Johnson County. A 2011 master plan for the idea envisions theatrical exhibitions; re-creations of old suburban model homes, such as Sears & Roebuck houses; and maybe an "interpretive car wash experience." Installing all of this would cost, the plan says, about $7.7 million.
The plan predicts 60,000 visitors a year and goes on to describe that figure as a conservative estimate. But no source is cited for that guess. Ticket prices would range from $2 to $6 a person (the Johnson County Museum doesn't charge for admission), with projected revenue of $193,000. Food sales, museum-store income and fundraising events — and $1 million in county operational support — raise the plan's total projected revenue to $1.5 million a year.
Steve Klika, a Johnson County commissioner whose district covers the southeastern corner of the county, doesn't see the concept as viable. Klika, who was elected to the commission after the purchase of King Louie, says, "I know when I ran for election ... there was zero support for trying to promote this."
Museum officials say they're not really analyzing the prospects for a national-scope museum yet. They're more focused on raising the $2 million necessary to help move the current museum out of Shawnee and into the King Louie building.
"I wouldn't say we're on the back burner," says Love, director of the Johnson County Museum. "It certainly wouldn't be realistic for us to raise $10 million in three years."
The last major fundraising campaign for the Johnson County Museum, from 1996 to 1998, to build the current "Seeking the Good Life" exhibit, raised $800,000.
And though the Johnson County Museum's fundraising drive to move to King Louie hasn't started in earnest yet, it's likely to face competition from another museum in Johnson County.
Fred Merrill Jr. is developing the Museum of Prairiefire, at LionsGate, a mixed-use project at 135th Street and Nall Avenue that includes a museum. It would book traveling exhibitions from New York's American Museum of Natural History.
Merrill has established a foundation to support the museum via donations. Its campaign aims to raise $5 million–$6 million. Merrill says the campaign has reached about 20 percent of that goal. "It just takes a lot of work when you're raising money for something," he says.
Whether the work would be worthwhile for a national museum of suburbia, given the absent analysis of demand, is anyone's guess. But Ashcraft and other county commissioners remain ambivalent.
"Is that a venue that would draw me or my family repeatedly?" Ashcraft says. "I'm not seeing that. I may be surprised."