Outwardly, not much has happened to the former King Louie West bowling alley since the county’s decision to buy it about a year ago. The distinctive building at 8788 Metcalf Ave. — once home to bowling and ice skating — sits as empty today as it did after the last frame was rolled in 2009. But last week, as county commissioners discussed a contract for maintenance on the site, they shared their hopes of transforming the site into a multi-use facility that will one day save the county thousands of dollars.
Among the potential uses: An overnight parking place for JO buses, an advanced voting site, office space for two county-supported agencies that are currently leasing.
And, of course, the Johnson County Museum.
History lovers’ hopes for an ambitious National Museum of Suburbia at the site were once in the limelight. Last week, however, the commission emphasized the other uses they are looking into. The county museum will still be relocated to the new site. But plans for an expanded National Museum have taken a back seat.
County Commission Chairman Ed Eilert said it’s been the plan all along for multiple uses at the site.
“The building was originally purchased with the concept of a multi-use facility, and unfortunately discussion has focused on one narrow aspect of what may or may not happen on this site,” he said during the board’s meeting last week. Other activities will offer a “significant payback” on the purchase, he said.
Of those activities, plans for a bus lot for the JO are the most developed. County officials figure an outlay of around $250,000 for gate and fences, block heaters, some paving and a roof would allow them to park six to 10 short buses at the lot every night, said Joe Waters, director of facilities for the county.
The move would pay for itself within three years and would save the county $88,000 to $146,000 per year, Waters said. As it is now, buses park at a facility in Olathe, far from the majority of the routes in the northeast part of the county, he said. Parking them farther north would save the fuel and time spent driving them to their routes every day.
The old bowling alley was mentioned as an advanced voting site because of its proximity to Metcalf South Shopping Center, the busiest of the county’s four sites for early voting. Almost one-third of the county’s 75,000 early voters used Metcalf South this year. Some county commissioners worried about losing that site if the shopping center is redeveloped.
There are currently no redevelopment plans on the table for the center, however, said Overland Park spokesman Sean Reilly.
Eilert is also optimistic about saving the county lease money, possibly by relocating two agencies that currently lease office space. He did not name them because of later lease negotiations.
The National Museum of Suburbia was the item that captured public attention shortly after the county bought King Louie. It would cost $12 million to $28 million to create space for the museum. The idea, coming on the heels of Wall Street’s financial meltdown, met with a fair amount of public criticism. The commission told museum officials they would have to raise $9.6 million themselves for the exhibits, a feat they are still working on.
Museum officials would still like to have the National Suburban Museum, but that idea is down the road, said Mindi Love, executive director of the Johnson County Museum. The museum’s foundation board is investigating how much support they’re likely to get from their current donors, Love said.
But that won’t affect plans to relocate the current operations into about 20,000 square feet of the King Louie’s 70,000, she said.
Despite its location atop a hill, the former stone schoolhouse housing the museum has persistent problems with groundwater leakage in the basement. Love said the museum should be able to move into the King Louie site in 2016 or 2017. Any requests for additional space for a National Museum of Suburbia would come later.
The county bought the old bowling alley for $2 million and planned to spend around $1.6 million more to stabilize it. At its meeting Thursday, the board will vote on a $915,000 bid by the Weitz Co. to do such things as asbestos abatement and activation of fire protection and temperature control systems. Another $585,000 is earmarked for roof replacement and related expenses later on.