Garden City Arts makes formal pitch for Commerce Bank building




Garden City Arts has submitted an official proposal to transform the downtown Commerce Bank building into a center of fine arts.

Arts Executive Director Laurie Chapman, Arts Board of Directors President Lara Bors, Arts member Duane West and Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Kimberlea Inderlied all met with Commerce Bank President Richard Harp on Tuesday morning to present the proposal.

Garden City Arts proposes that Commerce Bank and the Kemper Foundation — officers and directors of Commerce Bank — transfer title of the facility to the arts organization. The proposed name of the building would be either Commerce Bank Center for the Arts or the Kemper Foundation Center for the Arts. Garden City Arts would maintain a voting board member place for a representative of Commerce Bank, so the financial institution would have a voice in the future of Garden City Arts.

"The name change would allow them to maintain a presence in downtown Garden City," Chapman said. "If they decided to approve the proposal, we want to recognize them for their generosity. They would be making a huge investment in our organization, so it makes good sense to recognize that."

Commerce Bank is moving out of the building to centralize its operations in the former Bank of America building at the corner of Kansas Avenue and Fleming Street.

Harp said the bank is reviewing the proposal.

Garden City Arts is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, so the bank could receive a tax benefit by making the donation.

Under the proposal, if Commerce Bank or the Kemper Foundation do not wish to donate the facility for the potential tax write-off, Garden City Arts would ask for the perpetual use of the building without rent. Garden City Arts would be responsible for maintenance and utilities. The proposed name of the building would still be either Commerce Bank Center for the Arts or the Kemper Foundation Center for the Arts.

Inderlied, a supporter of Garden City Arts in its goal of acquiring a larger facility and creating a fine arts center, wrote a letter to Harp. She said the move to Commerce Bank is bigger than the building itself.

"Yes, the space has been outgrown and a bigger facility is needed," Inderlied said, referring the Garden City Arts' need for more space. "But as a 365-day attraction, the center would draw visitors to Garden City, increase downtown foot traffic, boost our local economy, and provide cultural awareness and much needed programs to the children and adults in our community."

In her letter to Harp, Inderlied stated that many cities and towns have embraced creative economic development by making the arts part of their landscape. When cities invest in the arts, they fuel economic growth, create jobs, and make their communities more attractive to young professionals who want to start a career or business and who consider the quality of life and cultural amenities in their cities of choice, she argues.

"While each group has its own focus, whenever all entities in town work together, we all want the betterment of the community," Inderlied said

Garden City Arts envisions the building as the home of permanent exhibit space for the Jessie Montez collection, rotating exhibits, workshop areas, performance art space, a film presentation hall, small galleries, and several office spaces for community arts organizations.

The Jessie Montez collection is a 41-piece collection with an estimated value of more than $175,000, according to West. The collection of art was donated to West after Montez died.

"Having a fine arts center downtown would be a win-win situation for the bank and the community," West said. "A more suitable fine arts center would serve as a focal point for the community. It would allow us to reach out to more organizations and get other artist work involved. Securing the downtown location would provide an endless number of possibilities for years and years."

Since the proposal was presented at the Garden City Arts' annual meeting in late January, Bors, the Garden City Arts board president, said progress has been great thus far. But at this stage, it's a waiting process, she said.

"We're all anxious to get into the new facility, but a waiting process will take place to find out the bank's decision," Bors said. "Commerce Bank may have other options to weigh with their facility, so we have to keep our eyes open. But having this larger facility would bring different types of activities that could go hand-in-hand with art programs at the high school and college. Performing arts, a small Jazz group and poetry — the sky is the limit in that facility," she said.

During the waiting process, Chapman said the group is going to maintain programming at the current site.

"It's a balancing act," Chapman said. "I don't want to divert my attention to just the bigger facility. We are going to prepare for the bigger facility, but I can't let our children down who come here."

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