I read with great interest the recent Morning Sun editorial supporting the proposed $30 million PSU arts complex, and the earlier more detailed story on the subject, replete with artist’s renderings. I am an avid supporter of the arts, and ordinarily I would be saying to such a grandiose proposal... where do I sign up? However, something about the lack of specificity about this project, its need, and its funding sources seem to cry out for greater scrutiny. 

I read with great interest the recent Morning Sun editorial supporting the proposed $30 million PSU arts complex, and the earlier more detailed story on the subject, replete with artist’s renderings. I am an avid supporter of the arts, and ordinarily I would be saying to such a grandiose proposal... where do I sign up? However, something about the lack of specificity about this project, its need, and its funding sources seem to cry out for greater scrutiny.  

It is evident from the tone of the editorial, that the newspaper subscribes to the philosophy of “If we build it, they will come”.  It is not surprising that a local newspaper would adopt an advocacy stance toward any kind of development prospect. Hometown boosterism is alive and well in Pittsburg, and so it should be. However, there is another way of looking at the proposal which warrants further examination.  

At Pitt State, much has been done to integrate campus programs with community needs. That is to be encouraged and commended, and the Downtown merchants certainly reciprocate in kind with events like Paint The Town Red. But it doesn't have to stop there. At many other universities, Syracuse University, for example, the leadership of the college is often trying to invent ways to build physical bridges to the downtown of the town, to help make it a more vibrant place to live and do business. Here, we seem to be missing opportunities (like renovating the Besse Hotel as a dormitory, for example) if not charting, even inadvertently, a reverse course. I am suggesting that we develop a new mindset when it comes to integrating campus and community.
Pitt State is not alone in their current “on campus” mindset. Look at neighboring Joplin, where the MSSU campus is fairly isolated from the once vibrant downtown. MSSU played a vital role in responding to the community needs of the tornado victims (as did PSU), but more could be done to integrate the campus with the downtown there as well.

As I understand it, the plan for such a facility dates to 1972. I am sure it has been updated and revised since then, but I was unable to obtain a copy of it to date. Is it based on hard supportive data which justifies the expenditure, or is it based on the assumption "if we build it they will come"? Has there been an actual feasibility study in addition to the facilities plan and glossy brochure advocating the project? If so, where is it? These are questions that deserve answers.

My concern is that, in the Arts Center proposal, there are those in the community to whom I have spoken who have expressed skepticism, privately, but are unwilling to do so publicly.  

There are those who are not convinced that the community has sufficiently considered all the alternatives, the demand, and the impact such a facility will have on those that currently exist, and those that hope to be. Count me among those who doubt.
That fact that we have an anonymous donor who has pledged $10 million for the project is a very impressive plus. But are there minuses to consider as well. That is only one third of the cost. I understand that none of the cost of construction would be paid for by the taxpayers of Kansas, but would come from private sector donations. That is a very ambitious goal, and if achieved, will be a Herculean accomplishment. As for me, I'm from Missouri on that issue.

Show me the need. Then "show me the money"! There is only so much money for the arts to go around! Add to that the recent decision by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to eliminate funding for the Kansas Council on the Arts Commission, and the fundraising challenge becomes even more daunting.  

Let me ask this question. If an anonymous donor pledged $10 million to the City of Pittsburg for a new fire and police station, would the city accept it and build it? Seems to me we already have both. What if someone donated $5 million for a new city pool and acquatic center. Would the city accept it and build a new one? What do we call that thing in Lincoln Park?
What are the terms of the proposed gift? Is there any flexibility on the part of the donor ?

Could the money be used to construct and modify existing facilities, like the Memorial Auditorium and the Colonial Fox theatre? Can Pittsburg sustain all three? A vibrant Memorial Auditorium, a renovated Colonial Fox Theatre, and a new performing arts facility? Are the arts that ravenous for facilities in Pittsburg?

That artist rendering of the newly proposed 1,100-seat auditorium looks strangely enough like the current Pittsburg Memorial Auditorium, a modern, first-rate facility. It may not be directly on campus, but it is not that far away. Have we no buses that could be run to connect the campus to the not so remote downtown? As the crow flies, the Memorial Auditorium is not much further away from Russ Hall than the new Armory and Fitness Center. (Actually, 1.4 miles by my odometer). That should not be a barrier in terms of modern day transportation availability. And, in the final analysis, if PSU is right, and the need and feasibility can be demonstrated, and fundraising goals can all be accomplished, is there another site, closer to downtown, that might be considered? Perhaps a better, broader, more geographically expansive definition of “on campus” is in order. After all, this is not 1910.   

In the course of my investigation into the matter, I have talked with several PSU officials, Chamber representatives, city officials and common citizens. As for PSU, needless to say, my ideas were not warmly embraced. Some of those PSU leaders have already expressed their disdain at the effrontery of someone from outside criticizing such a development proposal. If, as they say in their advocacy for such a facility, they want to play in the big leagues, it is time to get over it. Harboring resentment toward those who dare to criticize is a Nixonian trait that, in the long run, will serve neither the administration, nor the institution, well. One would hope they are bigger than that.  

With all due respect to the presumably well intentioned leadership at PSU, at this stage, this proposal just sounds a little too “pie in the sky” for my taste buds. It seems to me that the University should have some solid answers to some solid questions before this new dreamboat lifts anchor! I am anxious to hear them. Let me be clear about one thing. I am not accusing the President of having an edifice complex... at least not yet. But I do know when the emperor is wearing no clothes, and it is important for Pittsburg to ferret out the naked truth about this very large and important project before too much time and effort is invested for naught.