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Performing Arts Center construction to start this fall

Construction is set to begin this fall on the long-anticipated Metropolitan Performing Arts Center following a decision today by the board to proceed with the $326 million civic icon.

The project championed by philanthropist Julia Irene Kauffman is expected to transform a dormant hillside overlooking downtown into an architecturally-stunning arts complex dominated by two, 16-story tall shell-shaped structures, one housing a 1,600-seat symphony hall, the other an 1,800-seat space for opera and ballet.

“We’re excited, we’re delighted, we’re thrilled to be going forward,” Kauffman said.

Ceremonial groundbreaking is set for October and dirt will begin moving in December.

Board members, while concerned the fundraising effort is still lagging, decided to move ahead with the project so it could be ready for an anticipated fall 2009 opening. As of today, they have raised $261 million toward their $326 million goal. That amount also includes a $40 million operating endowment.

The project has been a work in progress since the late Muriel McBrien Kauffman instructed her board to begin actively pursuing the idea in 1994. She died in 1995 and her daughter, Julia, pledged to continue working toward her mother’s vision of a world-class performing arts center in Kansas City.

The foundation came back with a report in 1997 recommending the project and the hillside site at 16th and Central streets was purchased in 1999. Three years later, the design by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie was unveiled.

Fundraising was begun with a $105 million initial pledge by the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation, and was followed by up by a $5 million pledge from the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. In 2003, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, established by Julia Kauffman’s father, pledged $26 million.

Further assistance was provided when the State of Missouri approved $50 million in tax credits, and the City of Kansas City pledged $47 million to build two parking garages for the complex.

Fundraising however, slowed last year, and in October, a renewed effort began led by Jan Kreamer, the former president of the Community Foundation. A steering committee set a goal of raising $45 million by February, about half the amount remaining to fully fund the project.

That goal however, was missed by about $20 million. The fundraising has continued since, and the board felt confident enough to move ahead with a fall groundbreaking.

Frank Byrne, the executive director of the Kansas City Symphony, said the decision to move ahead with the project was “incredible news.”

“This is a project that’s right and the time is right for Kansas City,” he said. “The symphony is raring to go and looking forward to the opening of the hall.”

The project will encompass the entire grassy area in front of Bartle Hall and the Munincipal Auditorium in the left-middle part of the picture.
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