KC leaders fight to keep American Jazz Museum open

Posted at 7:44 PM, Oct 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-23 20:44:17-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The American Jazz Museum has been plagued by operating losses and bounced checks to musicians, but now may soon be taken over by Kansas City.

Chuck Byrd, who's family owns the restaurant Bayou on the Vine, across the street from the American Jazz Museum, said the museum represents a true piece of Kansas City's identity.

"People think jazz started in New Orleans, but I believe jazz started in Kansas City," Byrd said. 

He also said his father-in-law was actually a part of Kansas City's jazz history.

Byrd has been in Kansas City 57 years, and he remembers when 18th and Vine was a thriving hot spot.

"When I was a youngster this was the place to come," Byrd said.

Council member Jermaine Reed couldn't agree more and said "jazz, barbecue and baseball" are all things quintessentially Kansas City.  

That's one reason Reed is proposing the city give the museum an additional $225,000 to help pay salaries through the end of the year.

“Because of some of the festivals that occurred this year, there have been some things in the red," Reed explained, talking about the KC Jazz Fest where some checks to musicians bounced.

The performers were owed $150,000 at one point.

Reed also sits on the American Jazz Museum board and said they are seeking grants and asking for donations diligently, with the hope of solving some of the finance woes.

The city already gives the museum at least $500,000 a year in subsidies, but the council believes the museum is at least $1 million in debt.

"We are aware they have some real cash flow problems that are prompting us to take action to keep their doors open till the end of the year," Scott Wagner, head of the finance and governance committee for the city council, said.

Wagner said the museum's issues of sustainability can't be ignored anymore. He said the museum has already spent its annual city subsidy for the fiscal year that ends next April.

Reed sent a letter this week to city and museum officials outlining a proposal to move the museum, the Blue Room Jazz Club and the Gem Theater to the Parks Department. He said the city has an obligation to safeguard its assets.

"It is clear business as usual will not suffice," Reed said. "The Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners has a long history of full collaboration with neighborhood groups and business leaders in managing certain city-owned assets and tourist sites such as the Kansas City Zoo, the Liberty Memorial, Starlight Theatre and the Kansas City Museum."

Reed explained part of the measure will have a task force looking at finances for a period of about six months.  At that point they would make a recommendation if the Parks and Recreation Department should take it over.

Byrd said he supports anything that brings people back to 18th and Vine.

"We’re excited about whatever the district is doing to bring it back alive, to be part of that process," said Byrd.