Garden City Arts proposes gallery in old Legion building




During Tuesday's Garden City Commission meeting, a representative of Garden City Arts proposed turning the old American Legion building into an art gallery.

Jeffrey Weeast, a member and former president of the Garden City Arts executive board, told the commission he had been considering the gallery idea for a couple of months and has about 20 volunteers and capital funding available to put into a renovation of the building, located at 125 Pine St.

Weeast said he, along with Garden City Arts, is ready to put time, money and manpower into rejuvenating the building and turning it into a source of pride for the community.

"We'd like to transform an empty building that is a burden on you guys. It's constantly been an eyesore, constantly in the paper. And we would like to turn it over and make it into a public gallery," he said.

In April, the commission shut down a proposal to turn the building into apartments due to concerns about allowing first-floor residential units in the central business district.

Over the summer, the commission decided to put the building up for sale. An appraisal indicated the "as is" market value of the building is $57,000, and added that the property is in poor condition and needs significant structural, interior and exterior repair and updating. The county appraiser had the building and property valued at $169,000.

According to Matt Allen, city manager, the city has received interest from a few people but so far no written offers to buy the building.

Weeast asked if he could buy the building, but added a caveat that he couldn't offer a large amount because it would mean waiting another couple of years to regenerate the money necessary for the renovation.

When pressed for a number by Allen, Weeast indicated he might offer $1. Weeast said he based that amount on the $1 offered by another nonprofit, which came in late and wasn't accepted, when the city was seeking proposals.

"There's a great expense to rejuvenating it. We're not going to take that money and put it in our pockets. We're going to take that money and give back to the city and give them a world class art gallery, at no cost to you," he said. "We're not necessarily saying you have to hand the title over to us, but we'd like to take on the project and give back to Garden City. We think it would make a fantastic art gallery."

In his spare time, Weeast said he renovates and flips houses. He has renovated 12 homes so far, including two in Finney County.

"It's something that is a passion for me," he said.

Weeast understands there are ADA issues with the building, but he believes most of the problems are largely cosmetic and can be handled.

"We are fully capable and ready to take this over. If I got approval and started today, I could get it done by the end of this year. It would not take us that long," he said.

Weeast estimated the renovation cost at between $60,000 and $150,000, but would take an investment of $60,000 to $150,000 over three or four years to pay for it.

Commissioners asked Weeast to prepare a written proposal that provides more details that would be considered at a later date.

Garden City Arts is interested in the building to provide more space for its gallery and for its increasingly popular workshop program offered to children. Weeast said that a year ago the gallery on Main Street might have had about 85 people per month, but since the workshops began in the spring, foot traffic is averaging about 287 people per month.

Laurie Chapman, executive director of Garden City Arts, did not attend Tuesday's meeting but said in a separate interview that the organization definitely needs more space.

"We had workshops every day this summer, and there's just not enough space to be able to have the number of kids we'd like to have, and the number of kids interested in the workshops," she said. "And one of the issues is we have expensive artwork that belongs to artists hanging in the same room where students are, so it doesn't make for the best of circumstances."

Chapman said Garden City Arts is looking to have space where children can get messy while being creative and having fun, without worrying about slinging a little paint around.

Chapman said Garden City Arts has been looking at the building for almost a year but wasn't quite ready to move forward when the city sought proposals. The group started considering it again more seriously within the past couple of weeks.

"Hopefully, it will pan out. If it doesn't pan out as we originally envisioned, we'll work on making it work," she said.

In other business:

* The commission learned its challenge to the 2010 U.S. Census population figures for Garden City has been unsuccessful.

"It didn't go well," Kaleb Kentner, community development director, said.

Officially, Garden City's census puts the population at 26,665. City staff challenged the census numbers in 2011 after identifying 51 blocks believed to be under counted, and the census bureau adjusted the number by seven people.

As a result, the city submitted a second challenge and provided a more in-depth analysis and found 134 census blocks within the city limits that had count anomalies, errors the city believes show at least 318 units that were completely unaccounted for. But the census last month sent the city a letter that rejected making any adjustments.

The errors may have been the result of census field workers not collecting data or residents not filling out census forms. During a challenge, there is no recount. The census bureau staff relies on forms mailed in and reports from workers back in 2010. No further challenges can be made.

"Our biggest concern has been and continues to be the undercount. Specifically, a large area of the community was undercounted. It's visible on the map, as you can see, in the East Garden Village area," Kentner said, pointing to a map of the city with blue dots representing households recorded by the census. The East Garden Village area is clearly defined by no dots at all.

Kentner estimated there are roughly 2,000 people in that area that were not counted. Even when physical evidence was provided, in the form of an aerial overlay of the map showing the homes, as well as utility accounts in that area, the census bureau declined to make any more adjustments.

Allen said there's really not a material difference with programs the city is eligible for even being 2,000 people off. The city is still in a "no man's land" of being too big to be called rural and too small to be called urban. However, there are a few things a lower population could impact on the state level in distribution of funds and in determining how much money the city would receive.

Those areas include the city-county sales tax revenue, certain state highway fund programs, and certain grant programs through the Kansas Department of Transportation.

* The commission endorsed a request from the Finney County Economic Development Corp. to hire a consultant to conduct a senior housing market analysis.

FCEDC is looking to spend $20,000 to hire the Buckley Group, a Colorado-based health care consulting and management group, to take a look at the need in Finney County for senior housing, assisted living and full service senior care facilities.

Funds for the study would come out of the incentives/special projects fund both the city and county support, though the county controls the use of the funds.

The FCEDC will make its request to the county next week.

* Allen reported Garden City Regional Airport received a perfect inspection with no discrepancies from the FAA during its inspection Sept. 24 and 25. He commended airport tenants, personnel and the Garden City Fire Department for the successful inspection.

"I think this is the third time in five years they've accomplished this. It's a fantastic honor," Allen said. "There's a lot involved in inspections. To have one with no discrepancies requires a lot of diligence."

* The commission approved a request from the Leave a Legacy Foundation to temporarily close vehicle access to Lee Richardson Zoo from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Saturday for the group's annual road races.

* The commission will hold a town hall meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 29 at the City Administrative Center. Town halls typically are held whenever there is a fifth Tuesday in a month.

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