Kansas City's performing arts center set to open fall 2011

Sunday, June 13, 2010 | 4:23 p.m. CDT; updated 9:18 p.m. CDT, Sunday, June 13, 2010

KANSAS CITY — Kansas City's Kauffman Center for Performing Arts is nearly three-fourths finished, and thanks in part to a recent $12 million gift, is on target to open as scheduled in the fall of 2011.

The center received a huge lift last month with the $12 million pledge from the Joe and Jeanne Brandmeyer Family Foundation. The gift boosted a spring fundraising offensive that was aimed at smaller donors and is the fifth-largest pledge since fundraising began 10 years ago.

"The barometer for us was that even with a challenging economy, we started getting calls from people who wanted to give," said Jane Chu, president and CEO of the Kauffman Center.

Arts center officials say they've achieved 90 percent of a $413 million fundraising goal that includes a $40 million endowment fund, according to The Kansas City Star.

Joe Brandmeyer, a former executive with the late Ewing Kauffman at Marion Laboratories, made his fortune in the pharmaceutical business.

The performing arts complex has soaring precast concrete shells — as tall as a 16-story building — that house Helzberg Hall, which will be the symphony space, and the Muriel Kauffman Theatre, home for opera and ballet.

"My mother's vision of a performing arts center is becoming a reality," said Julia Irene Kauffman, chief patron of the project.

Chu, who is pursuing a doctorate degree from Indiana University that looks at the influence of performing arts centers on urban revitalization, said the Kauffman Center should be the next big catalyst for downtown.

"It seems a lot of things have happened at once," she said. "It's so satisfying to be a player in helping Kansas City become a destination."

About 250 workers converge on the site each day. Sheet metal workers installing the stainless steel roof panels scale its sloping surface with ropes like mountain climbers, iron workers are fine-tuning the cable system that will suspend the glass walls enclosing the lobby, and scores of masons, electricians, plumbers and other workers are busy inside.

Construction officials expect to start installing the glass panels on the 370-foot wide, four-level grand lobby by late summer. The entire 298,000-square-foot complex should be completely enclosed by November.

Both the symphony and opera halls will feature skylights, and the ceiling offers glimpses of the sweeping arches of the exterior shell.

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