Nick Nelson, director of the Springfield Art Museum, says renovating a museum is a delicate matter. “This isn’t like working in other spaces,” he says. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

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As the Springfield Art Museum prepares to close for remodeling, the City Council is considering how far renovations will go.

The project was originally estimated to cost $25 million when the museum launched its 2028 Campaign in 2018, and increased to $32.3 million in 2022 as a result of inflation. Today, the total project cost is estimated at $49.75 million.

As the cost has increased, so has the scope of the project. The latest estimate includes added improvements and renovations, as well as upgrades to the building's fire suppression and mechanical systems.

Though council members are supportive of the project, they are wary of its ballooning cost. Springfield Art Museum Director Nick Nelson and BNIM architects updated the City Council on changes to the project, and options for funding it at a March 19 study session.

Funding specifics for a center of arts and culture

The Springfield Art Museum and a re-naturalized section of Fassnight Creek in late May 2023. The white pedestrian bridge was part of the re-naturalization project. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Since 2018, the campaign has raised nearly $16 million, including private donations, and American Rescue Plan Act funding from the city government and the Missouri Department of Economic Development.

Approximately $4 million has been spent on the naturalization of Fassnight Creek and other improvements to the museum’s grounds, according to previous reporting by the Hauxeda. With $12 million left, the museum is short about $38 million in funding to realize the total vision of the project.

The project team presented three approaches on how to close the financial gap, including the “ideal” route of issuing $38 million in bonds to fully fund the entire project, and two options to split the remodel into two phases.

City Manager Jason Gage estimated $38 million in total bonding would need to be paid off in $3.25 million-$3.5 million annual payments.

Under a limited approach, the first phase would cost $13.25 million, and would require the city to finance about $1.5 million, which could be repaid from Springfield’s general fund and ¼-cent capital improvement sales tax over 21 years. Subject to change, the second phase would cost about $36.5 million.

A room of modern pieces at the Springfield Art Museum including the colorful sculpture, “Stacked 93-5”, by American artist Ida Kohlmeyer. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

The “minimum” desired approach would divide the renovations into a $26.15 million first phase and a $23.6 million second phase. The first phase would require the city to issue bonds for $14.5 million, which would have to be repaid from the capital improvement sales tax as the general fund doesn’t have the capacity to cover the $1.22 million annual debt service.

Even with the city’s capacity to pay off bonds from the general fund and the capital improvement sales tax, annual debt service could result in “significant” budget cuts, according to Gage.

A potential ¾-cent sales tax — which has been proposed to replace the city’s expiring pension sales tax of the same value — was floated as a means to finance any funding gaps for the renovations. The City Council last discussed a possible ballot measure for a sales tax in January.

Though council members are undecided on what approach to take, they instructed the project team to move forward with a full design of the renovations to limit potential gaps in construction and ensure the project’s ARPA dollars are spent before a deadline. 

Expanded scope of a reimagined Art Museum

A rendering showing what the west facade of the Springfield Art Museum could look like following renovations. (Courtesy of BNIM and N FORM Architecture)

The full scope of renovations include a new education wing, a café, a boardwalk along Fassnight Creek and expanded galleries visible through large windows wrapping around the building. The project also includes new administrative offices, a reconfigured loading dock and ADA accessible restrooms.

Of the added improvements that increased the project price tag by nearly $17.5 million is a high-ceiling gallery space able to display works of art the museum currently doesn’t have the space for.

Nelson said the new gallery will be a “completely unique amenity” in southern Missouri, and allow the museum to “continue to serve as an economic driver for cultural tourism.”

A rendering showing what the Family Learning Center at the Springfield Art Museum could look like following renovations. (Courtesy of BNIM and N FORM Architecture)

BNIM architect Steve McDowell described the recommended upgrades to the museum’s aging mechanical infrastructure as an “unforeseen circumstance” necessary to address in order to provide “experiences that people deserve.”

The Springfield Art Museum is essentially composed of four separate buildings, constructed in 1957, 1973, 1993 and 2008, with each addition constructed without upgrades to the existing wings.

“In some ways, when you put buildings together like that, unless there's really strong intention to how that happens, they start to leak,” McDowell said. “The systems don’t correspond to one another, they don't really work together in one building. And on top of that, there's just been a lot of deferred maintenance that didn't exist because of all of those situations.”

A rendering showing what the lobby of the Springfield Art Museum could look like following renovations. (Courtesy of BNIM and N FORM Architecture)

Nelson said the goal of the project is to “build the museum for the next 70-plus years” to serve the Springfield community “for decades, if not generations to come.”

“In short, this is about a long-term investment,” Nelson said. “We take the responsibility of setting the course for the museum, how it will serve the community for the coming decades very seriously.”

When it comes to economic impact, the return on investment will eventually come to $7 million a year, according to Nelson, and could help the city attract tourists, talent and future residents.

City Council concerns about the cost

A rendering showing what the exterior of the Springfield Art Museum could look like following renovations. (Courtesy of BNIM and N FORM Architecture)

Though council members seemed open to the idea of issuing bonds to finance museum renovations, and expressed support for the project, their concern of the ballooning cost was apparent.

“We've got a challenge in front of us,” Mayor Ken McClure told Nelson. “We appreciate you thinking big; it's what our community needs. The dollars are an issue.”

Springfield City Council member Derek Lee attends a City Council meeting on May 22, 2023 at City Hall. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Councilmember Derek Lee suggested a ¾-cent sales tax measure would not only give the city a means to pay for the renovations, but an opportunity to gauge public feedback for the project.

“The amount of dollars that we're talking about in the bonding is going to affect long past when I'm off of council, and I personally would feel more comfortable if we got some input from the public,” Lee said.

Councilmember Monica Horton said there was a path forward for the desired approach to fund the project if they advocated for a ¾-cent sales tax measure to make the November ballot.

Though the fundraising campaign will continue encouraging private donations, a recent survey indicated the public wants to see more public funding, according to museum development and fundraising officer Kate Francis.

While hopeful for more private money for the museum, Councilmember Matthew Simpson cautioned his colleagues from relying on fundraising to help close the project's money gap.

Matthew Simpson is the city council representative for Zone 4 in Springfield. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

“I just want to make sure that we're thinking about our role in this, that we're not counting on money that may or may not happen as we think about the best approach to it,” Simpson said.

Councilmember Craig Hosmer suggested the museum — which is currently free to the public — consider charging an entrance fee for visitors from outside of Springfield or outside of Greene County to help cover part of the renovation cost.

Nelson said the museum has always had a “strong ethos of being free,” but that it was ultimately up to the City Council to impose an admission fee.

While the museum is slated for a three-year closure, Nelson said he doesn’t anticipate renovation to take that long. However, the construction timeline may depend on what approach the City Council decides to take to fund the project.

Nick Nelson, director of the Springfield Art Museum talks about plans for the museum’s expansion and renovation plans. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is the government affairs reporter at the Hauxeda. He previously covered politics and business for the Daily Citizen. He’s an MSU graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a minor political science. Reach him at or (417) 837-3663. More by Jack McGee