Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The King and I

Last Thursday, members of the Board of County Commissioners effectively slow-rolled and maybe stopped the restoration of the "King Louie" facility.

The site is a former bowling alley and ice rink, purchased at what appears to a be below-market price, for relocation of the Johnson County Museum and potential creation of a special suburbia museum. 

As the project gained potential traction, other uses for the facility were identified.  It is, after all, a huge complex with plenty of parking.  ABC used to broadcast "Wide World of Sports" Bowling Championships from this site back when ABC, "Wide World of Sports," and bowling all were things people cared about.

Advance voting was added to the list of potential uses.  Actually, I barked a bit about that initially because I didn't think enough was being done to truly address our advance voting needs if, indeed, it were to be used this way.

The county's facility department met with me and we spent considerable time conceptualizing what would be a very workable but modest advance voting site (comparable to what we do at Metcalf South, across the street and used in even years since 2006--however, we never know when our last election there will be our last and the shopping center will be demolished).

From the election office standpoint, I was fine with the plan.  Separately, I saw the arguments on all sides of this purchase. It wasn't my role to have a position on that.

Just before last Thursday's meeting ended, one commissioner suggested a task force be formed of the various building stakeholders to consider the fate of this property.  That suggestion didn't make it to a vote, but one might come up in a regular commission meeting.

I've toured the facility.  I see the warts and I see the potential.  No one asked me, and even if they do it might be a pity postulate request, but here's what I would do.

  1. I'd move the election office there.  It's centrally located to the population in the county today, and for the foreseeable future.  It's large enough to accommodate the growth we need in our building for storage, a need nearly every commissioner and many county staff persons have concurred that we have.

    Doing this allows for us to consider a mega advance voting site, not one that has 25 voting machines and processes 35,000 voters over two weeks, but rather 100 voting machines processing 100,000 voters or more in a presidential election. 

    We can do it; I've done the math, and given all of the polling place and advance voting constraints we have, it's the kind of game changer that might allow us to operate with, say, 100 polling places in the county on election day.

    (Incidentally, if you look at strip malls and empty storefronts as I do, you'll notice there are fewer than we saw, say, in 2007.  Advance voting possibilities are hardly ample).
  2. As part of the renovation, build an auditorium-type of training facility for 400, allowing us to conduct refresher election worker training at a county facility.  The building structure is conducive to this kind of idea, I think.

    Right now, we have to utilize churches and other facilities, and the rent for those is going up.  We're subject to limited availability and options.

    There is a need, I believe, within the county government structure for such a training facility beyond elections, so it would be available for other county uses as well.  We would simply have first dibs.  Further, it could be leased out to other organizations. 
  3. Move the museum (which must find a home) to our current building.  The county owns the facility and it has plenty of parking for visitors in the numbers they have.  There is even the old "rectory" site adjacent to our property that the county purchased in 2012.  It could be used for better access/egress into this site.
  4. Some of the other uses for the King Louie building could still be achieved.  As the Election Office, the site would be a terrific place for a transit station because it would make advance voting much more accessible.  The Enterprise Center--the county's incubator for new businesses--could still possibly have a home there and would be able to benefit from the training facility.  Who knows, we might be able to leverage some innovation into our operations as a result of that.
Of course, this all requires money, money which was expressly not pushed forward last week.  If there isn't a financing plan to use the site, though, it is my understanding that a note will come due requiring $3 million from the general fund in 2015.

So, it looks like some significant money will be spent, one way or another.

As I often say, I'm an idea guy.  Now it's just a small matter of implementation.  First, our leaders would need to buy in and, again, no one asked me.

I remind all that I am here to neither praise, nor bury, King Louie.  If the King can be part of an elections solution, though, it seems like it's worth, at least, a vote by the county's governing body.  At the very least, maybe these thoughts will be a good kickstarter for the task force suggested.