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MEET ME AT THE STATION: Kansas City Ballet will have its own home downtown, at last

Imagine a future in which Our Town’s nationally renowned ballet company had its own home for the first time in its 52-year history, a dynamic place where professional creativity, community arts and education all converged into a synergistic hub in the heart of downtown. Well dream no more, supporters and fans of the Kansas City Ballet. The company that former Balanchine dancer/choreographer Todd Bolender helped build into a national force has just announced that it will begin immediately on a $31 million renovation of the Union Station Power House, the last of the buildings on the Station’s campus to be restored. The Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity at Broadway and Pershing, just west of the Union Station complex, is slated to open with fanfare in July 2011, just weeks before the scheduled opening of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts a few blocks away — where the Ballet will stage its professional repertoire as a resident tenant. The center pays tribute to Todd, former artistic director of the company and one of the most respected figures in American dance history, who died in 2006 at age 92.

The spacious three-level renovation designed by BNIM Architects will give the company 60,000 square feet, more than triple the space it works with at its current temporary home at 16th and Broadway — which is just the most recent of a half-dozen makeshift rented spaces the Ballet has occupied over the years. It will include a spacious lobby, seven daylight-filled dance studios, a large waiting area for parents of students at the Kansas City Ballet School, changing rooms, a costume shop, an archive/library, an area for physical therapy, and administrative offices. The main studio for the professional company is the size of the stage of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, and with 180 retractable seats it will also double as a public performance space.

“We really see this as a community center for the arts,” says Ballet Executive Director Jeffrey Bentley. “This is a project that affects various aspects of our community.” In addition to providing the professional company a home, he says, the Bolender Center will create a large, much-needed downtown space for smaller local groups, provide rental revenue to Union Station and bring thousands of Kansas Citians to the Station area each year, who will also patronize restaurants, galleries and other businesses. Plus, he adds, “this is as ‘green’ an idea as you can get: We are saving a building that was on the edge of extinction.” The renovation, which preserves a vital part of Kansas City history, is aided by $11 million in state and federal historic tax credits.

“Part of our mission is to make Kansas City a destination for dance,” Jeffrey says. “You don’t even have to be an advocate of ballet to understand that this is a contribution to the history and to the heritage of the community.” The massive, red-brick Power House, which opened the year Bolender was born, 1914, originally supplied power to the Station buildings, first with coal and later with oil. A half-million dollars each will go to preserving the brickwork and creating state-of-the-art windows that are virtually identical to the originals, says David Lovetere of MC Realty Group, project executive for the Bolender Center. The newly renovated National Archives and Records Administration building, located next door to the Ballet’s new building, was in worse shape than the Power House, Dave says, “so that when you look at what was done with that building, you can see what is possible and imagine what this building could become.” In the end, he adds, “environmental correctness and historical accuracy make good financial sense.”

The $38 million capital campaign, which includes $7 million dollars for an endowment, has advanced at a remarkably healthy pace considering the sagging national economy and the hefty recent fund-raising demands on local arts philanthropists. So far $31.5 million have been accounted for, including multi-million dollar lead gifts from Julia Irene Kauffman and the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation (the latter partly in the form of a $2 million matching grant), $1.5 million from the Hall Family Foundation, several donations between a half million and a million dollars, and numerous others from foundations, corporations and individuals. Jeffrey says he expects most of the remaining $6.5 million to come in during the 22-month construction phase. He adds that the Downtown Council of Kansas City has been an invaluable partner in the project.

Is there a connection, a spiritual one perhaps, between the Power House’s original use and the new use to which it will be put? It’s about the generation of power, Jeffrey says. “The building was originally created to generate a source of power for the facilities, and now almost 100 years later it is being brought back to create a whole different kind of energy — from dancers, choreographers and those studying dance — human-sourced energy as opposed to coal-sourced.”

To reach Paul Horsley, performing arts editor, send email to phorsley@sbcglobal.net.

 

Paul Horsley, Performing Arts Editor 

Paul studied piano and musicology at WSU and Cornell University. He also earned a degree in journalism, because writing about the arts in order to inspire others to partake in them was always his first love. After earning a PhD from Cornell, he became Program Annotator for the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he learned firsthand the challenges that non profits face. He moved to KC to join the then-thriving Arts Desk at The Kansas City Star, but in 2008 he happily accepted a post at The Independent. Paul contributes to national publications, including Dance Magazine, Symphony, Musical America, and The New York Times, and has conducted scholarly research in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic (the latter on a Fulbright Fellowship). He also taught musicology at Cornell, LSU and Park University.

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