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 newspapers 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 stations 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 stations finances.
In the same newspaper, in the Metropolitan section, its 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
babythe downtown arena.
So much for the dire financial condition of Union Station.
Its not hard to assume that Barnes used her political muscle
to make sure her arena deal wouldnt be overshadowed by the troubles
surrounding Union Station. Shes 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 KCURs Steve Kraskes "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 assistancewhich he called minority
participationand 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 Kraskes 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 stationinstead
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, its
apparent his management and marketing talents arent 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 cant 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 doesnt need the prospect of a bright
new arena and a darkened, empty historic Union Station.
A public airingwhere Union Station board members participateis
needed to find out what went wrong and why the predictions for success
were so off-base. Its 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 Crossroads
energy? A transportation center with meaningful planning for commuter
and light rail? Or how about a casino? If were going to dump
money into the station, lets have a chance at getting something
Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at