It's run by a private board of directors whose members answer only to themselves. And over the last couple of weeks, their hired gun, Union Station CEO Turner White, had the cojones to suggest that Kansas City taxpayers pony up more cash to pay for the monolith's continued operations, this time without the help of our generous suburban neighbors. Though The Kansas City Star treated this as big news, Pitch readers will recall that writer David Martin first reported that a request for more money was looming three months ago ("Loco Motive," February 19).
The Star's cautious approach is understandable, considering that Publisher Art Brisbane sits on the station's current board -- an oligarchy of "civic leaders" who have, in their stewardship of the great civic asset, earned a new distinction to put on their résumés.
Not only have they lost serious money by continuing to operate a science museum so lame that its only repeat visitors appear to be busloads of school kids forced to go there on field trips, but also they've lost something much more important: the good faith of citizens who want desperately for Union Station to be something cool.
Last week, White tried to grub up support for a new property tax at two public hearings. For two nights, City Councilman Jim Glover sat in a chair looking troubled as folks griped to White about how the station had floundered in the few short years since its celebratory reopening in November 1999. Glover must have reported back to the mayor, and Her Honor, apparently flush with a sense of power after making her big arena announcement, sent the Union Station board to timeout. Its members would have to sit on a committee with a few of the mayor's own henchmen (as of press time, she had yet to name them) to study the Union Station situation and report back to the public by October 1. Conveniently, that ensured there will be no competition on the August ballot for her new downtown arena.
But we have another idea. Union Station's board of directors should step the hell aside. And there's no need to worry about chaos in the ensuing leadership vacuum -- we've already located several estimable Kansas Citians who would do a much better job.
And deserve to. At last week's hearings, for example, White argued that he'd trimmed costs and was running a lean, efficient operation. But he admitted that the station needed a couple of additional major attractions, and at one point he tossed out this tantalizing bit: "The Steamboat Arabia would like to relocate to somewhere in this area."
That gets a humble little laugh out of Bob Hawley, patriarch of the family that dug the Arabia steamboat out of a farmer's field, cleaned up its perfectly preserved cargo and now runs a popular museum in the River Market.
"Really? How about that?" Hawley says when I tell him White's news that the Arabia Steamboat Museum wanted to move. "Maybe he's going from that time when he took us out to dinner a couple of years ago. We spoke about a relationship a couple of years ago, but nothing came of that."
Improperly invoking the Arabia's name for the purpose of getting people excited about Union Station is an offense that clearly calls for White's resignation. After all, the Hawleys and their boatload of treasures were among the early possible attractions for the rehabbed station, but even then, members of its brain trust couldn't hold onto the gold they held in their hands.