publisher's note
May 14, 2004


Political dancing over Union Station
by Bruce Rodgers

On May 12, The Kansas City Star published an editorial titled “Museum tax is ready for ballot.” The newspaper’s editorial board urged Mayor Barnes and the city council to place a museum property tax increase on the Aug. 3 ballot because “Union Station officials have made a persuasive case” in getting a share of the funding.

Two days later the newspaper reports that the station’s board of directors (which includes Star publisher Arthur Brisbane) and Barnes have announced that consideration for placing the tax on the August ballot has been put aside and instead a “committee will be formed to review the station’s finances.”

In the same newspaper, in the Metropolitan section, it’s reported that Barnes has introduced an ordinance seeking voter approval on the August ballot for hotel and rental car fees to help pay for Barnes’ baby—the downtown arena.

So much for the dire financial condition of Union Station.

It’s not hard to assume that Barnes used her political muscle to make sure her arena deal wouldn’t be overshadowed by the troubles surrounding Union Station. She’s an admitted “glass is half-full” kind of person, and having a public mulling over the screw-ups in planning and policy at Union Station since passage of the first bistate tax is too much of a downer for Barnes as she tries to bask in the glory of bringing an arena to downtown.

Ironically, the same day Barnes was announcing her arena deal, Union Station CEO Turner White was on KCUR’s Steve Kraske’s "Up to Date" show. (The show was even interrupted with an announcement that Barnes had closed the deal in financing a new downtown arena.)

On the show, White made his case for an increase in the museum tax to benefit Union Station and for the station getting a piece of the new proposed bistate tax. He painted a bleak picture for keeping the station open without public assistance—which he called “minority” participation—and toned down any suggestion that the new IRS and postal operations in and near the station would somehow offset the money problems the station faced.

Despite Kraske’s polite prodding, White refused to take any responsibility for the financial mess at the station. As Kraske repeatedly asked why money was not put into a "second attraction"—something White says is needed to attract more people to the station—instead of depleting reserves to pay for operational costs, White could only say it was a “judgment call.”

Bad judgment Mr. White.

While White displayed considerable PR skills on the Kraske show, it’s apparent his management and marketing talents aren’t there when it comes to running Union Station. He needs to go and the Union Station board should realize that. In fact, maybe a few of the board members should resign, also. What we need is “real” taxpayer representation on the Union Station board, not establishment suits locked into going to taxpayers for every problem they can’t solve.

Barnes may be peeved that her arena announcement bucked up against the lingering problems at Union Station, but she needs to get a grip and understand the city doesn’t need the prospect of a bright new arena and a darkened, empty historic Union Station.

A public airing—where Union Station board members participate—is needed to find out what went wrong and why the predictions for success were so off-base. It’s called accountability.

And we need a widening of ideas about how to make the station financially viable. A retail center? A art center tied to the Crossroad’s energy? A transportation center with meaningful planning for commuter and light rail? Or how about a casino? If we’re going to dump money into the station, let’s have a chance at getting something back.

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at


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