War of the Words
Construction crews chip away at the south steps to the Liberty Memorial with sledges and chisels, breaking the quiet atmosphere of the tree-lined mall. The sound of a jackhammer pounds the humid summer air. Cranes as tall as the tower swing huge limestone blocks from one place to another.
If the construction continues, the south side of the memorial will turn into the entrance to a Liberty Memorial Museum, which promises an “immersion” experience that puts visitors down in the trenches. Abandoning the memorial’s dedication as a monument to peace, the museum aims to re-create the gritty reality of All Quiet on the Western Front.
Well … almost. Future visitors will approach the museum down a quiet, grassy slope set into the south mall, passing sculptured gardens that fall gently to a small reflecting pool. Preliminary design documents reveal that the “processional path, memorable in character,” takes visitors “from daylight gradually below ground into a chiaroscuro world transfigured by war.”
Visitors enter the museum through a semicircular lobby, where they buy tickets and check coats. They make their way past the phones, the restrooms, and the tour-group organization desk, where they pick up gallery maps and rent Acoustiguides to take them step-by-step through the museum, beeping all the way.
Visitors then traipse across a transparent walkway that “spans a vista of an eerie ‘scorched earth’ landscape.” Cast figures of soldiers walk toward their fates on barren ground that once was the Argonne Forest; other figures caught in artillery flashes carry wounded soldiers across the dreary field. Peering through the museum walls, visitors can see further battlefield scenes created through lighting and landscaping in an earth-floor space. “The vistas will expand the visitors’ experience of the war, indicating its horrifying scope but showing in a highly dramatic way that its catastrophic story cannot be fully contained by an exhibit.”
After being expanded and horrified, visitors make their way through exhibits rife with photographs, paintings, posters, uniforms, film footage, and other memorabilia, learning something of the cultural, economic, and political context that fueled the War to End All Wars.
But that’s not all. Paying customers move on to the Prologue, which depicts European life before the First World War. They can take in a “comfortable, charming piazza” surrounded by architectural portals that “evoke a rich cultural past, as well as a time of great expectations, when Europe and the world stood on the brink of modernity.” More cast figures in period dress further entertain and educate visitors while recorded tales of daily life sift through nearby speakers.
When they’ve witnessed enough slices of confident, hopeful European life, visitors move into the Core Chronological Exhibition. They learn of war campaigns, political machinations, nationalist rhetoric, lost sons, slain civilians, and broken civic and private lives. Thematic galleries display different aspects of the war, the technologies and strategies of warring armies, how the war came to engulf the globe, and the “Big Guns” of the German, French, British, and Austrian armies.
In the plans, the rough column of the Liberty Memorial tower, set into bedrock below and stretching through the ceiling high above Penn Valley Park, is the museum’s focal point. But the kicker is the Trench Immersion Experience. Signs near the exhibit’s entrance, next to the column, caution visitors about its intense nature. Those with constitution and fortitude walk out onto an overlook above a British trench cloaked by night. Shells flash, revealing the wounded and the dead. Body parts litter the trench, made all the more real by mist, lighting, and sound. Concussions and shock waves roll over the visitors. Those who have not fled use the elevator to get to the cross sections of soldiers’ quarters, complete with half-written letters and foraging rats.
Visitors continue on, through The War at Sea, America Goes to War, and Over There, depicting American expeditionary forces on the front. All along, footlockers, uniforms, and equipment boxes provide a glimpse into the practical aspects of a doughboy’s life. Soldiers and horses hover around their artillery; medical personnel stand near their equipment; a special exhibit even examines women’s role in the war.
Calmer now, after their immersion experience, visitors get to see The Peace to End All Peace, a display of more artifacts, battlefield souvenirs, photographs, and film footage. A huge globe with lines of filigree-like fiber-optic light demonstrates how the war changed borders and political boundaries.
Finally past the Core Exhibition, visitors enter The Legacy: a chronicle of memorials built after the war that also tells the story of the Liberty Memorial, a monument to peace now equipped with a war museum. Afterward, guests get to spend time in The Epilogue, “a commemorative, reverential space” that will “honor the heroic valor of the soldiers of World War One, conveying the significance of their sacrifice and the ideals for which they fought.” A shrine of remembrance includes “dramatically illuminated” war-scarred helmets from different countries. A wall of paintings and photographs invites visitors “to reflect on the consequences of war in the human terms and the ideal of lasting peace, which, despite the repeated lessons of history, remains elusive.”
Not satisfied with the Liberty Memorial as a national and international icon Kansas Citians dedicated to their war dead, the Board of Commissioners of the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department under then-Mayor Emanuel Cleaver cooked up the museum plan back in 1996 as a way to bolster support for the memorial’s much-needed restoration. The scheme was to prop up attendance by making the memorial a tourist destination.
At the center of their plan is the world’s largest collection of World War I memorabilia, now moldering in crates in industrial caves on W. 31st Street. The Liberty Memorial Association, a group that acted as advocates for the memorial after the war but now is just a handful of interested citizens, owns the collection; only a tiny part of it has ever been shown in the two museum buildings, Memory Hall and Exhibit Hall, that flank the memorial’s central tower. The collection contains hundreds of artillery pieces, buggies, cars, carts, guns, uniforms, diaries, personal effects, battle plans — even a boxcar and rolling field kitchen. The parks department and parks board commissioners argue that the memorabilia has worldwide significance and needs a home where it can be properly displayed.
In 1998, voters approved a half-cent sales tax for the memorial’s restoration. But money for any museum would have to be raised from private sources.
That money, museum supporters thought, would be easy to get with a good plan. Business and philanthropic groups would happily donate to such a worthy cause. Consultants and architects produced slick pictures, site and architectural plans, and museum designs. But today, of the $30 million to $50 million needed to build the museum, the Liberty Memorial Museum Fund has found only $7.5 million.
The parks board, appointed by Mayor Kay Barnes, remains firmly behind the project — as do area historical societies, museums, archives, and libraries. But Jane Flynn and the Historic Kansas City Foundation (HKCF) want to stop the jackhammers.
Flynn charges that not only is the restoration flawed but also that millions of taxpayer dollars are going toward a museum that was supposed to be funded with private dollars.
Flynn has taken on the Establishment in one of the biggest battles of her career as a historic-preservation activist. She holds no degree in architecture, nor does she pretend to know the intricacies of the subject. But as a longtime member and current board president of the HKCF, her connections reach from city hall to the state capitol and beyond. She has acquaintances and friends at the National Trust for Historic Preservation (a nonprofit advocacy group) as well as in the National Park Service — which oversees nominations to the National Register of Historic Places.
Flynn and the HKCF have taken the lead in some of Kansas City’s most recognizable preservation projects — the Coates House Hotel, the New York Life building, Union Station, and the Folly, Uptown, and Midland theaters. Because of these projects and a long list of others, Flynn commands attention when it comes to restoring or preserving any building, fountain, or monument in Kansas City.
The Liberty Memorial is a particularly difficult battle, she says, “because who doesn’t want to see the Liberty Memorial restored and emphasized as an important monument? No one. But in the interest of getting it restored, we have also been sold a bill of goods that isn’t particularly good for any of us.”
The popular restoration and renovation project involves $45 million in public money — $30 million for the restoration and $15 million for a privately controlled endowment for capital maintenance. The biggest change to the monument, as the project now stands, includes renovations that will make room for the 100,000-square-foot museum expansion that will fill the structure’s hollow base.
“We are being given something that in the future we will have to change again, after the flush of tourism, as a way to support this project — and any like it — fades,” Flynn says. “We have to ask if we want to leave a legacy that will be an embarrassment and will ultimately have to be removed later to restore the monument to its historic use and purpose — a sort of restoration for the restoration. That’s not something the parks department, the city council, nor any of the consultants on this project are asking.”
Flynn is asking — and her questions can halt wrecking balls midswing.
She has worked hard for that credibility. After a record as a mediocre student at the Sunset Hill School in Kansas City and then with the Pine Manor Junior College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, she started in the architecture program at the University of Southern California (USC). When she arrived for the first day of class, she found only one other woman in the program.
“The mid-1940s was a time when women in the profession were not encouraged,” she says. “Sure, Frank Lloyd Wright and other big architects had, at one time or another, women working for them; there was precedent. But those women were the ones who had to suffer tortures for years before they rose through the ranks.”
Continuing at USC was futile. “Even if we were to finish the program, the chances of us being taken as true professionals were slim,” she says. “I did what was expected. I returned to Kansas City, joined the Junior League, and married.”
But Flynn’s strong personality allowed her to stay home and play house only for a while. In the 1960s, she worked for the Institute for Community Studies, an urban research group funded by the Model Cities program of the Lyndon Johnson Administration. Thirty years after her attempt to become an architect, in 1975 she took a job as an administrator with the newly formed Landmarks Commission — an invention of the Ilus Davis administration.
Relying on such city council members as Joanne Collins, who had an interest in historic preservation, Flynn and the commissioners slowly became important players in efforts to save historic landmarks and buildings through redevelopment. The Landmarks Commission now is the agency that reviews applications for the National Register of Historic Places before sending them on to the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service.
At the same time, Flynn was active in the Historic Kansas City Foundation, whose membership and financial resources were growing. In 1976, the group’s board decided to take the lead in a city that held little regard for historic preservation. It bought several buildings slated to be demolished, rescuing the Bunker Building at 820 Baltimore (it is now an office building) and buying the Coates House Hotel after a fire destroyed part of the building that had been used as a Union armory in the Civil War. The hotel was later renovated into apartments and became the center of some of Kansas City’s most aggressive downtown redevelopment in Quality Hill and the nearby Garment District.
The HKCF then bought and began to restore historic and architecturally significant midtown houses that had been targeted for demolition (today these homes in Hyde Park, near Hospital Hill, and on Benton Boulevard north of Linwood are privately owned). But as real estate prices began to rise in the 1980s and ready cash grew short, HKCF decided to take an advocacy role rather than continue as a landowner.
Flynn left the Landmarks Commission in 1988 but has continued to work with the HKCF. This year she was elected the group’s president, a role she also filled in the 1980s. She admits her strong personality has caused more than one exodus of board and dues-paying members over the past 25 years. “But I wouldn’t do a thing differently today if I had the chance,” she says.
Such determination has not endeared her to developers or their friends in city government, particularly when it comes to projects backed by the business and philanthropic communities. HKCF has demanded that DST pay attention to historic detail in its tax-increment-financed restoration of the New York Life building and has required changes in renovations of the Folly and Midland theaters. Some of the objections, such as paint schemes, landscaping, and small architectural technicalities, infuriate architects and planners.
Even preservation architects and consultants have objected to Flynn’s brash criticism of their work. “She is an activist and a hobbyist,” says Cydney Millstein, a Kansas City-based architect and consultant who prepares National Register applications for sites all over the country. “She is not a scholar, not a professional, and not an architect. She really doesn’t know what she is talking about. But she keeps talking and people keep listening.”
Now Flynn is accusing the Parks and Recreation Department (the Liberty Memorial’s owner) of inflating the cost of its restoration — a restoration that is funded by sales tax — to get the museum built. Restoration is one thing, Flynn says, but laying the groundwork for the museum expansion is another.
“They are preparing for the museum with no way to tell if public money is being spent on preparations for the museum — nor how much of the endowment money will be used on maintenance of the museum. As far as we can tell, it is all mixed up in one pot. It looks like it is all being used to make the structure ready for the museum.”
Parks department documents indicate that money from sales tax, federal, and state sources is kept in separate accounts. But architectural and site plans, budget projections, and cost estimates for both the restoration and the renovation are occurring all at once. Several sources tell PitchWeekly that cleaning, new limestone, tuck-pointing, new glass, lighting, and structural support for the memorial court’s deteriorating deck should cost from $18 million to $20 million, no more. They say much of the $11.3 million budgeted for shoring up the deteriorated observation deck — the reason the memorial was closed in 1994 — is actually for preparation of the museum.
Moreover, to build the museum, the entire area below the deck needs to be excavated, and a new south wall and foundation have to be built.
In reviewing the project plans, Mel Solomon, the former head of the Landmarks Commission, points out that “there are some 250 concrete columns there. The existing ones are deteriorated and need restoration — maybe some need to be torn out and replaced. But the columns now being torn out are being replaced with new ones in a radial pattern specifically for the museum.”
“About half of the budget will be for restoration. The rest is for new stuff,” says an architect close to the project. “It is apparent to me that $20 million could do what you needed in restoration for sidewalks, limestone, waterproofing, and structural repair and support for the observation deck. So the other $18 million or so in the budget is being used for renovation. That is supposed to come from private funds.”
But, he notes, the parks department only has $7.5 million in private funds — not $18 million. “If you look at what it will take to restore the memorial and what they are spending, the numbers don’t match.”
Flynn and others also argue that changes to the memorial to make room for the museum will be drastic intrusions into the monument’s historic nature. The proposed redesigns of the south entrance and fully one-third of the mall leading to the memorial violate the spirit of the memorial’s original intent, Flynn says. Plans call for a large shell on the south side that will obstruct the view of the memorial court and change the mall’s atmosphere.
Solomon says changes to the south approach also include elements on the platform that weren’t there before. “They take one of the two exhibit buildings and make it an escalator house for the museum beneath,” he says. “You can’t make these drastic changes and expect to respect the historical significance of the memorial.”
The changes don’t fit with what architect George Magonigle originally intended, Solomon says. “The changes will be humorous,” he notes. “The idea of a museum there is amusing. The memorial was never meant to be a museum dedicated to a war, but a memorial to war dead. There is a subtle and elegant peace there. It was quiet and had atmospheric lighting. The memorial is a place for people to gather and walk around — that was what the memorial was about, to walk and reflect. All that needed to be done was fix it and not pour more concrete. Instead, we throw all this money into a hole in the ground.”
Changes to the south entrance and the addition of a museum, Solomon says, “change the place from one of quiet contemplation and relaxation to an event. How they have lumped the museum with the restoration is very naive. It is part of what I call the ‘small town syndrome.’ When we can’t find a way to make something work, we say, ‘How about a museum?'”
Further, Solomon says, “We are now making changes in use and perception of the Liberty Memorial, and no one has really approved that. Many communities would never have let that happen. Do you change design or the use of the Statue of Liberty or the Brooklyn Bridge? This is on the same scale in many ways.”
Flynn has also objected to the parks department’s application to place the memorial on the National Register of Historic Places, which she says left out architectural descriptions of the south face. The nomination, Flynn has written, includes “no explanation of the importance of the property … showing how it is unique, outstanding, or strongly representative of an important historic context when compared to other property of the same or similar period.”
The missing or incorrect details range from the minute (windows in Memory Hall described as industrial sash windows are actually steel casement windows) to the silly (raised garden plots at the ends of the memorial court noted in the nomination are really individual tree planters) to the immense: The description completely omits two sets of steps some 102 feet long leading to the memorial court — even though the steps will be removed for the new museum entrance and the shell that will house the museum lobby.
The botched and missing details, Flynn says, opened the way for changes under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act — which allows “adaptive reconstruction,” in which historic structures are reconfigured for contemporary uses and to meet modern building codes without harming their historic significance. Such changes do not have to go through the same rigors as the National Register applications, so they can bypass the Landmarks Commission and require comment only from the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the National Council on Historic Preservation (a review board that works with the National Park Service on National Register applications and changes to historic structures).
But even the Park Service has problems with the project. Rachel Franklin Weekley, a Park Service architectural historian, reviewed drawings and photographs of the memorial for a Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), part of the National Register process. The “drawings seem to be construction treatment drawings that have not been modified for HABS use…. At this point, they fall short of HABS standards,” she noted in a February 11 memo to the parks department. “The drawings should present a statement about current appearance of the buildings, plaza, and monument structure … rather than treatment plans for the current rehabilitation effort.”
Earlier this year, Flynn’s objections to the Section 106 changes led the parks department to hire John G. Waite and Associates to review the project’s plans. Waite is a preservation architect whose high-profile restorations of the Washington Monument and Mount Vernon Plantation won him national attention. In June, Waite gave his blessing to site and architectural changes that have paved the way for the museum.
But Flynn has criticized Waite’s review as cursory and not based on all the architectural and historical facts. (Waite did not return calls for this story.)
Because of Flynn’s objections, however, the parks department and organizations such as the Jackson County Historical Society, the Kansas City Native Sons, and the Liberty Memorial Association all have signed a “memorandum of agreement” — a legally binding federal document in which all signers agree to the terms of the restoration and renovation.
HKCF refuses to sign. “It is, at best, a weak document that keeps the groups who sign it from stating their opinions and influencing the project,” Flynn says. “It is not a good document, and we reserve the right to speak out on these issues.”
Parks department officials have no doubt that the base of the memorial is the perfect place for a World War I museum. And, says Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Mark McHenry, delaying museum preparations could significantly raise the cost and lengthen the time needed to build it later.
McHenry says the $30 million in sales tax revenue will be used only for restoration. The rest of the project’s budget is coming from $2.5 million in federal money (with another $2.5 million to come later) and $5 million in state funds, both of which were allotted specifically for the Liberty Memorial. “The way it is set up is that public money will be used for restoration, but the federal and state money did not have those limitations,” he says. The nearly $10 million needed for adaptive construction — which includes building the entrance infrastructure along the mall, a sculptured garden leading down to the museum entrance, a new south shell, and floor slabs for the museum — are all paid for with federal and state money, he says.
Parks board member Tim Kristol says that the demands of restoration dictate that “the excavation being done on the south wall is necessary even if we covered it again, and even if we did not plan to build anything more. The museum is not being built and is only envisioned. HKCF knew that. We had to look at the value we were going to get from engineering and design.”
One of the HKCF’s biggest criticisms of the restoration centers on the replacement of the columns that support the memorial court. “(HKCF argues) that the columns should be restored and not replaced. But they were so bad that they had to be,” Kristol says. “The question then is: When you put those back, what do you do? One of the engineers’ recommendations was cross stabilization between the pillars because they are long and narrow. This allows for a structure that could be used as a floor. HKCF would like us to redraw the plans not to permit a floor, but that would cost us more money than what we have invested now. Yes, there will be a floor. Yes, it will be for museum use. But that is a long way off. What we knew is that we had the need for cross stabilization.”
Kristol says the parks board has ensured that the public will get a good deal for its tax money. “Even so, it appears difficult to satisfy HKCF. We followed the federal guidelines and are under state and federal oversight. They wanted the memorandum of agreement, worked with everyone, then chose not to sign it. Although they did not choose to sign it, we try to consider everyone’s thoughts and opinions — and they are not the only ones we have to think about. Our job is to balance the requirements with the public’s needs and the interested parties’ opinions.”
Proponents such as McHenry, architect Cydney Millstein, and Liberty Memorial Museum Marketing Director Christie Green argue that the historic use of the memorial as a monument to peace and the war dead has little to do with the way the monument should be used in the future. To make it an important landmark in Kansas City, the memorial needs an attraction: the World War I memorabilia.
“We have 85 percent of the collection for the memorial in storage,” Green says. “We need a place to put that before the public, allow them to see what we have in the collection — which many argue is the best in the world. And we need to support that collection with education and interpretive efforts. This is the sort of thing that could put Kansas City on the map.
“It is curious to me that preservationists are not interested in history,” Green adds. “Jane doesn’t seem to think there should be a museum there at all. It is not their role to say that. We should question how they support their community, why they can’t join the effort to do something meaningful.
“I don’t mind them having their say on the subject. But they don’t speak for the public, nor do they speak to all of the members of HKCF.”
Parks department officials and their consultants also maintain that they have followed all the federal and state rules in the Section 106 process. Millstein prepared the memorial’s National Register application for the parks department and says it is airtight; state and federal agencies also have approved subsequent changes. Moreover, she says, Waite’s favorable opinion of the project is enough to lend it credibility. “Waite is truly a gentleman and a scholar. He said our application to the National Register was exemplary. Times change, and the purpose of the memorial should change with it. This is being held up by a group of hobbyists and activists. Why is a self-proclaimed historian against teaching people about World War I? Flynn and HKCF are talking about the work of professionals in the field, and none of them are.”
Millstein says she doesn’t understand how Flynn’s group could push for such an important document as the memorandum of agreement, have it drawn up with parks department resources at taxpayer expense, and then refuse to sign it.
“HKCF put us through the time and the money it took to make the agreement and get the groups to review and sign it,” Green agrees. “But HKCF and Flynn are the only holdouts. It seems we can’t do anything to make them happy.”
But the HKCF isn’t the only interested party that is not quite satisfied with the project.
Private money for the museum isn’t coming in as fast as parks department officials had hoped — they need $30 million, but so far the Liberty Memorial Museum Fund has raised only $7.5 million. Kansas City’s big corporate players haven’t stepped forward with significant donations; with its $1 million gift, American Century is the largest corporate donor, and most of the rest has come from a handful of corporations.
The philanthropic community is also visibly absent. Outside a $2.7 million donation from the Hall Family Foundation, no other organization has given to the cause (this at a time when Kansas City’s philanthropic community has been especially loose with its purse strings, eagerly coming up with more than $150 million for the yet-unfocused “Giant Steps” city leaders recently hatched for the KC150 celebration).
Even the Hall donation is designated for specific pieces of the memorial rather than the general museum effort. “Our donation was based on the availability of state tax credits,” says Bill Hall, president of the Hall Family Foundation. “We have donated to upgrade the existing museums, an outpost or ‘calling card’ containing some of the museum collection in Union Station, a parking lot for the west side of the mall, and to increase the experience related to the elevator ride to the top of the tower.”
While Hall believes that the public has demonstrated its interest in the Liberty Memorial “as an icon,” he says the foundation has “seen only a limited audience for the objects in the museum. They deserve to be shown, but we believe the museum needs to be built with an appropriate amount of space, commensurate with its support, and sized for the amount of public interest. How many people are interested in a museum of World War I memorabilia? It would be wonderful to have, but you will have a difficult time convincing people that the size of the museum they have planned will match the size of the market.
“No great museum shows much of its collection,” Hall adds. “Much of what any museum has, they have in storage. They rotate their exhibits. Showing it all is not to be a goal, really. We may have 100 different uniforms, but who wants to see all of them? In the existing buildings, we have an opportunity to show the collection in a positive light. It is not our decision, but we feel that altering the south entrance for the museum is not, in the long run, beneficial to the memorial or the public.”
As the construction and planning continues, the question of public, business, and philanthropic support of the museum dogs the parks department. Marketing Director Green says several European governments, particularly the French, have shown interest in the project, and she hopes they will help fund the museum.
And, Green says, raising money for the museum has been difficult because of Flynn and HKCF. “No one is asking what they have really cost the project,” she says. “It would be significant, I think.”
“Because of the actions of a hobbyist,” says Cydney Millstein, “we have taken public money to rectify the damage Jane has caused that could have been used on the project. We are almost back to square one. She makes charges and we have to respond. Every time they get press, they cost the public more money.”
No one, however, can say exactly how much.
And Flynn is unconcerned about the possibility of her actions’ using up even more money. Now that the restoration and renovation are under way, Flynn says, HKCF has several avenues to stop preparation for the museum — all of which may add significant time, and perhaps cost, to the restoration of the memorial.
The HKCF is preparing a request to the National Council on Historic Preservation “to revisit the case, asking specifically that they look into the recommendations from the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office. We believe they will agree … that Missouri office’s approval of Section 106 changes are out of line. If they do, they will have to stop work on the museum and make sure that all planning has proper public comment.”
That means federal funds would be held up until the parks department could satisfy federal guidelines on gathering public opinion. It would be a lengthy process — but would avoid the necessity of fixing a rush job in the future.
On August 4, Flynn and the HKCF board announced the formation of the National Preservation Advisory Council for Liberty Memorial, which she calls a “blue-ribbon committee.” The nine-member group includes Kansas City art historian and architect George Ehrlich, Folly Theater renovator Joan Kent Dillon, former Landmarks Commission chair Greg Allen, Union Station project manager William Albert Dupont, and Ellen Brandon Goheen, who participated in the architectural and site planning for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art expansion. Also included on the committee are present and past board members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Smithsonian Institution.
Flynn says each member has questions about architectural changes to the memorial related to the museum. While their committee holds no official capacity in the renovation process, members hope to change the course of the project through their influence in their various fields. The announcement of the new commission continues the argument between parks department officials — specifically Christie Green, who is an HKCF member — and the HKCF board over the foundation’s participation in project planning and to what extent HKCF officials knew how the project would change the memorial.
And in the next few weeks, HKCF plans to ask City Auditor Mark Funkhouser for a study of parks department documents related to spending the sales-tax revenue. “We will send Mark Funkhouser our numbers on the restoration and renovation, and a list of questions. In the past, parks people have indicated that the city’s auditor does not have the legal right to audit the parks department’s books. I took them at their word, but we found that, in fact, the auditor does have that right.”
The audit should clear up questions about how sales tax, federal and state funds, and private money are being mixed in the project. And if they are, restoration and renovation can continue to take place only with the proper accounting and funding for each.
HKCF also will ask the National Council to look closely at the memorandum of agreement. “Right now, it’s paper more than substance,” Flynn says. “But if that thing can be made strong enough to allow oversight of the project by people other than the parks department, we believe it could be good.” She admits this option has the least chance of success — the fact that seven other organizations have signed the document makes the HKCF’s case weak.
The final option, Flynn says, is litigation. “We won’t skip a step in the accepted processes for addressing our concerns. But if it comes to a court case, we are willing to take it that far. I don’t know how much that will cost, but we will pursue it. Plus, we have a strong relationship with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. They have taken on other, sometimes legal, battles before and may help us with this one, particularly since the memorial has national and international importance.
“Common sense says when you are lacking $30 million for a project like the museum, you won’t be able to complete it,” she adds. “In the meantime, we may destroy the original fabric of the memorial. It’s not something that will ever be returned. Once they tear apart the memorial, the stuff they tear up is not sitting off somewhere on the side to paste back on.”
Kansas Citians, she says, have done that before.
And as one of the museum displays would remind us, despite “repeated lessons of history,” we might be doing it again.