By Alicia Allison
It was a moment to go down in Johnson County history.
With hundreds of residents on hand to get their first look at the new $22.2 million facility, community leaders gathered in northern Overland Park Saturday for the long-awaited grand opening of the new Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt this facility will become an important part of the county and an iconic place to get together and learn about our past and enjoy the future,” said Johnson County Commission Chair Ed Eilert during the ribbon cutting ceremony. “I’m glad to see so many folks from the community who are interested in how the facility is going to be transformed and the activities that will occur.”
As part of the opening day celebration, the entire facility, including the new Johnson County Museum, were open to the public with no admission fee. And patrons got to see all facets of the center at work. An orchestra played in a large room in the morning, yoga and art classes were offered throughout the day, and a production of Jungle Book took place in the theater.
The new facility, operated by Johnson County Park and Recreation District, provides an indoor venue for Theater in the Park. The first production for the new theatre space, Grease, premiered Friday to a sold out crowd. There are also spaces for the emerging artists program, community spaces, and public spaces for rental.
“It’s a lot of different things all under one big umbrella,” said Austin Falley, a county spokesman. “We’re really excited about the opportunity to bring all of these different county services under one roof and we think it will be a really nice compliment to the work that’s already being done by our…staff. [There is a] lot of wow factor in this new facility and we’re excited for people to see it.”
Johnson County’s Board of County Commissioners approved spending $2 million to buy the former King Louie building in 2011, two years after it had ceased operations as a bowling and recreation center. After scuttling their initial plans to build a national museum documenting the rise of suburbs, the board in 2013 gave the green light to the plan to house the Johnson County Museum, an indoor space for Theatre in the Park, and additional uses in the facility. Work began in 2015 and wrapped up in recent weeks.
“We’ve been anticipating this day for quite some time, and are thrilled to finally be able to share this beautiful facility with the public,” said Jill Geller, executive director of the Johnson County Park & Recreation District. “It opens up many new experiences for residents all in one location.”