Union Station site proposed for regional archives collection

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The collection of historical documents would be housed in the nearby old Adams Dairy building, not the mammoth station itself.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's a treasure trove of historical documents, one few people even know about, tucked away in an industrial building far from downtown Kansas City.

The collection includes everything from Harry Truman's draft registration card to letters from Buffalo Bill Cody to papers from lawsuits that led to the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in the Dred Scott and Brown vs. Board of Education cases.

"We have highly valuable materials that historians desire or the 'gee-whiz' material the public is interested in," said R. Reed Whitaker, director of the National Archives Central Plains Region.

Officials of the regional office need to find a new location for their vast accumulation of federal government paperwork dating back as far as the 1820s, and they would like a spot that would make it easier for people to see the documents.

Now Union Station, the refurbished old railroad terminal on the south edge of downtown, has emerged as a possible site. The collection would be housed in the nearby old Adams Dairy building, not the mammoth station itself.

Union Station officials are pitching a $13 million project to renovate the dairy building and construct a 20,000-square foot addition, providing a three-level facility with classrooms, a reading room, exhibition space, offices and storage.

"It's a logical tie-in with our archives," said Andi Udris, president and chief executive officer of Union Station. "We have complementary goals in wanting to attract people."

The collection is currently in a large federal office complex in south Kansas City but must move in the second half of 2007.

The Central Plains office is one of 14 such National Archives facilities around the country. The new federal budget recommended by President Bush includes about $4 million in seed money for relocation of the Kansas City office and one in Fort Worth, Texas.

Making their presence known

Sen. Kit Bond, the Missouri Republican instrumental in pushing legislation leading to consolidation of regional Internal Revenue Service offices near Union Station, is lending his support to the concept of the new project.

"The senator's office has been working with local leaders on the project, and the senator stands ready to assist the project if it is determined to be economically feasible," said his spokesman, Rob Ostrander.

Tom Mills, a National Archives official in Washington, says the agency likes the proposal.

"We'd love to move to a new facility in a dynamic part of town with lots of traffic," he said. "We want our presence known to a larger audience than we can find in a federal depot."

The regional archive keeps about 50,000 cubic feet of what it considers its most valuable documents in its current site, with another 3 million cubic feet of lesser documents kept in some of the area's underground storage caves. (There are about 1,600 documents per cubic foot.)

The collection includes documents from 92 nonmilitary federal agencies. Most are from the four-state region including Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska, but there are some Bureau of Indian Affairs records from Minnesota and the Dakotas.

For example, some of Buffalo Bill's letters to the Indian agency in Pine Ridge, S.D., involve his efforts to recruit American Indians to perform in his Wild West shows. There are also documents having to do with Robert Stroud, the convicted murderer who gained fame as the "Birdman of Alcatraz" after being transferred there from the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan.

"This is history we have here," said Diana Duff, director of archives. "Who we were and where we're going."

Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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