Between immediate and near-future needs and site initiatives, Independence has identified about $28.6 worth of possible spending for a dozen historic structures around the city through recent assessments.
To help come up with funds, Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Eric Urfer said, a group of stakeholders connected to the historic sites recommends the city consider asking voter approval of a restaurant sales tax of up to 1 percent. State law lets cities to ask voters for such a tax for historical preservation and museum operations.
“Taking a harder look is certainly something our citizens say they want us to do,” Urfer said of historic site preservation.
A historic-site assessment last year by a pair of firms covered 12 structures around the city – at the Bingham-Waggoner Estate, Vaile Mansion, National Frontier Trails Museum complex and 1827 Log Courthouse. Three other sites (the Pioneer Spring Cabin, the Truman Depot and Old Fire Station No. 1) had been previously assessed by others, Urfer said. They identified about $14,750 in immediate and future needs and $13,850,000 in other site initiatives.
“Very comprehensive,” Urfer said of sites assessment. “It literally looked at everything from the basements to the rooftop. There were some very common findings throughout.”
Assessors found door and window issues at virtually every site. Other findings or needs at two or more sites included plaster repairs, stabilization issues, tuck pointing, concrete and asphalt degradation, decomposing wood and roofing issues.
The city's current transient guest tax and tourism sites generate about $2 million annually, Urfer said. Nearly $1.3 million of that goes to tourism administration, marketing, sales and service. A little more than a half-million goes to the Trails Museum, leaving about $235,000 for other maintenance and repairs at other historic sites.
Various nonprofits dedicated to some of the historic sites provide some funding, but there's little room for significant fixes or upgrades.
Based on current restaurant revenues around the city, Urfer said, such a tax could generate a little more than $1 million annually at one-half percent and about $2.13 million at 1 percent.
For a $5 meal, the tax would cost a diner an extra 2.5 cents at one-half percent and 5 cents at 1 percent. For a $50 meal, it would be an extra 25 cents and 50 percent, respectively.
After the sites assessment came meetings with the stakeholders, which included the Square Association, Attractions Coalition, Hotel Alliance and Tourism and Heritage commissions in Independence, friends groups or societies for the National Frontier Trails Museum, the Chicago & Alton Depot, the Bingham-Waggoner Estate and Vaile Mansion and the Jackson County Historical Society.
Urfer said there wasn't much discussion on whether to pursue the restaurant tax, or even the 1 percent rate as opposed to less – the stakeholders were unanimous on both counts. The split came on whether to ask for a 10-year sunset for the tax (with voter approved renewal) or have it be perpetual.
“That was the most banter they had,” he said.
Also, incorporating the Trails Museum's master plan to any citywide historic site project should be mulled, groups said.
“They said if you're going to fix it up, we should take a look at the master plan and consider building it out,” Urfer said.
“It's been something we've wanted to do for a long time; it comes down to dollars,” Council Member John Perkins said of the Trails Museum. “I think our jewel that we have is our historic sites.”
Bringing in the Steamboat Arabia Museum after its lease expires in Kansas City also drew some discussion. City Manager Zach Walker said there is some mutual possible interest with the museum's owner, but certainly nothing concrete.
Urfer said a possible restaurant tax likely would need some complementary funding for historic sites.
“To get that large number and all the needs, it's going to take a multi-pronged approach,” he said. “I don't think we'll be able to just look at one source.”