Groups began working to establish a jazz hall of fame/museum in Kansas City in the 1960s. This series has traced the torturous path into 1992 (in parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7), when the mayor appointed a committee of civic leaders. By September, the mayor was ready to act.
“Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver said Friday that he favored construction of one cultural arts building instead of three in the 18th and Vine historic district.
“Cleaver’s position…represent[s] a dramatic change of direction and downscaling of plans for development of the area….
“The mayor's statement drew quick criticism….
“Cleaver defended his position, saying he didn't think separate buildings would draw enough visitors for each to be successful.
“If built, he predicted, they would stand as ‘empty monuments to the inability of people to work together.’
“Cleaver said he now favors: Building the single cultural facility on 18th Street. The 1991 study recommended that most of the cultural facilities be grouped in Parade Park….
“Renovating the Gem Theater on 18th Street, mostly at city expense, and making it the principal jazz performance hall, instead of building a separate jazz hall. The Gem was to be renovated with about $2 million in public funds and matching private funds.
“Locating Count Basie Enterprises in the cultural facility….
“Cleaver said one reason for his change of position was his belief that philanthropic and corporate funders would not contribute to a project that appeared economically unfeasible.”
—The Kansas City Star, September 26, 1992
A new consultant was retained to consolidate development and prepare a report on the single building concept.
“Cleaver has been talking with [Count Basie Enterprises] officials about the band relocating here. Under discussion, besides office space, is city assistance with construction of a state-of-the art recording studio that would be used by the Basie band and other musical groups.
“Some officials at Hallmark Cards Inc…are said to be keen on the idea of the Basie group moving here….
“Cleaver said Aaron Woodard, chief executive officer of Count Basie Enterprises, has met with Hall Family Foundations officials.”
—The Kansas City Star, September 29, 1992
“…A new consultant's report recommends a scaled-down project. City leaders…embraced the change in direction.
“Although past plans called for separate buildings for the International Jazz Hall of Fame, Negro League Baseball Museum and Black Archives of Mid-America, [this] report calls for one building to house all three, plus the refurbishing of the Gem Theater.
“The proposals that included construction of three buildings would have cost more than $30 million. But the new plan fits the budget for construction and exhibits into the original $20 million price tag….
“The city has spent about $700,000 on consultants, a planning center and some land without a clear idea of what to produce. The participants were in agreement on one point, however: Whatever was built at 18th and Vine, it couldn't be done for $20 million….
“The...report changes an initial group of three structures...totaling 85,000 square feet, to one 50,000-square-foot building housing two museums and a Black Archives visitors center.
What's dropped are a jazz academy and offices for the Black Archives. The report proposes offsetting the loss of the auditoriums with additional renovation to the Gem Theater, plus the possible inclusion of Count Basie Enterprises' publicly subsidized performance and recording facility.”
—The Kansas City Star, May 22, 1993
“Not much remains on 18th Street these days to remind old-time Kansas Citians of the jazz years, except maybe the sidewalks….
“It has reached a point now where 18th and Vine has become a shell of its original conception, and many of the participants find themselves unhappy with their roles.
“The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum wants to open a larger facility, possibly at the Truman Sports Complex. The Charlie Parker Foundation's jazz hall of fame concept and the Black Archives of Mid-America have been scaled back significantly. And now Count Basie Enterprises, a possible supporting development, has decided to look elsewhere….
“When the city approved $20 million for 18th and Vine in 1989, Cleaver declared that "this will be the Midwest's answer to Bourbon Street,” referring to New Orleans' historic district.
“The idea lacked just one thing: a development plan that could meet that cost.
“The city opened a planning center, committed two planners full-time and hired three consultants to get started. The consultants created plenty of plans: separate buildings for a jazz hall of fame, a jazz academy, the Black Archives and the Negro Leagues. The cost ballooned to $32 million.
“Meanwhile, different factions within City Hall pushed for one plan or one consultant over the others, creating no sense of direction….
“Finally, Cleaver halted the project this year because of ‘unreal expectations.’ He brought in a fourth consultant to review the plans, and it was compressed into just one building.
“Gone is the elaborate jazz institute that was envisioned for the jazz hall of fame. As a separate building, it had included a museum with nightclub exhibits and a jazz story line, plus an academic side with classrooms and a music laboratory. It was 24,000 square feet.
“Now it is just 12,000 square feet, and the academy is out.
“In reaction, Eddie Baker, executive director of the Charlie Parker Foundation, took back his chosen name for the museum, the International Jazz Hall of Fame, and threatened to block memorabilia donations to the city.
“Now, though, he is willing to help the city stock the museum, although he has doubts about its success.
“’I think it's been shown this city doesn't have a commitment to jazz,’ Baker said….
“Meanwhile, Count Basie Enterprises has decided to take its idea for a jazz music and management complex out of the historic district.
“Last year, as a way of pushing the city to accommodate Basie, the 18th and Vine Oversight Committee wrote Cleaver: ‘Without CBE we have doubts about the drawing power of the project.’
“‘We’ve worked with them for two years, and little if anything has materialized,’ said…Basie’s local representative…’I don't think it's ever going to work.’”
—The Kansas City Star, November 14, 1993
This time, the Basie Orchestra was out for good.
The decision to build the museums we have today has been made because it’s what we could afford. But it’s not what the groups involved dreamed.
The story concludes later this week.