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The tax-increment financing district around Trinity Lutheran did not disappear when the hospital shut down. It became active once the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City built a new headquarters on land between the old hospital and the Liberty Memorial.
The new building generates taxes that the TIF Commission is able to capture. The parks department is receiving $5.6 million from the fund to spend on Penn Valley Park, the Off-Broadway Theater and the Liberty Memorial.
At one point, Liberty Memorial Association board members talked about using their share to encircle the grounds with a fence. Tim Kristl, a former parks commissioner who became a Liberty Memorial trustee in 2007, said the barrier was necessary to thwart terrorists.
Eyes rolled at Kristl's suggestion that jihadists would target a World War I memorial in the middle of the country. Funkhouser's appointments to the parks commission said no to the fence. Instead, the parks department plans this year to spend the Liberty Memorial's $2.2 million share of the TIF money to remove the mischief-obscuring brush on the east and west sides of the grounds and to make other security upgrades.
The Liberty Memorial Association has found other means of tapping into the city's treasury. Since 2006, the association has received $145,531 from a tourism fund that makes small grants to neighborhood and community groups that hold special events. The ghost of Kaiser Wilhelm II has provided formidable competition for the StoneLion Puppet Theatre, the KC Fringe Festival and other groups that apply for the money each year.
Brian Alexander could not be more different from the man he replaced as chief executive at the Liberty Memorial Association. Berkheiser was a decorated combat veteran. Alexander has spent his entire career working in museums, none martial in nature. He keeps a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to World War I on a bookshelf in his office. As he works, he likes to stream a classical radio station in Portland, Oregon, on his computer. "I find it very relaxing," he says.
Alexander grew up outside Peoria, Illinois. His resume includes leadership positions at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont (it specializes in American folk art) and Historic Annapolis Foundation in Maryland. His career seemed to be facing a downward trajectory when the Liberty Memorial Association asked him to lead the organization. Prior to moving to Kansas City, Alexander was the director of the lightly visited World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs.
Alexander arrived at the Liberty Memorial at a critical time. Unable to raise private donations in meaningful amounts, the World War I museum struggled to capitalize on the positive reviews that accompanied the opening of the space and its exhibits. Rather than retrench, Alexander guided the board and the staff through a strategic planning process. "We decided to be aggressive and move forward and enlarge the budget, enlarge our programs, enlarge the staff, to make it possible for us to really put ourselves in the future," he says.
In the past six months, the museum has hired a new development director and a new chief historian. The Regnier Family Foundation has donated $200,000 to start a distance-learning program. Ann Regnier is a Liberty Memorial Association board member. Since Alexander joined the organization, trustees have been expected to step up their giving to the institution — or make way for someone who will.