Kemper Arena fight hits city hall

Used under a Creative Commons agreement courtesy CC BY-SA 2.5.

Used under a Creative Commons agreement courtesy CC BY-SA 2.5.

Kemper Arena is so run down that even monster truck shows shun the seldom-used structure that costs the city a fortune – everyone agrees the status quo must go.

But the 40-year-old building will not go down easily, if at all.

City councilmembers – after facing citizen attacks on Kemper demolition – agreed today to put out a request for proposals and to hold another public hearing.

The combined committees of planning and zoning and finance acted after a hearing on an American Royal proposal to demolish Kemper as part of a $60 million project.

The Royal is asking the city to fund half the project, which includes $5 million for demolition, $5 million to upgrade Royal facilities and $50,000 million to build a new smaller facility – plus $1 million a year for utility costs.

American Royal officials today sweetened their offer: They would take over ownership of the properties, saving the city many millions in future upkeep costs.

Attorney Korb Maxwell said of Kemper: “Even the monster truck show said they were never going back to a facility that down trodden.”

The American Royal project can put a stop to staggering city losses and to a contract that will otherwise last 31 years, he said.

Attendance and income has fallen off for the Royal and the city owes $24 million for maintenance on Kemper and Royal facilities that cost it $1.6 million a year in operating losses.

“The blighting factor hanging over the West Bottoms is Kemper,” Korb said.

Robb Heineman, CEO of Sporting Club, said his group would work with the Royal to bring in youth and adult sporting events all year and spark rebirth of the West Bottoms.

Then the opponents took their shots, led by former councilman Dan Cofran, who spoke for the Historic Kansas City Foundation.

The issue is not just about the building, he said, but many other things including “significant public indignation.”

Why should the American Royal “be the only ones to get a bite of that apple?”

The Foutch Brothers company had presented a competing plan that renovated Kemper. It withdrew after Royal lawyers threatened to take legal action related to the Royal-city contract.

Cofran also said of Kemper: “It’s a public facility – they’re not supposed to make money.”

And he said the historic group was moving forward on getting national historic designation for Kemper. It could also lead an initiative petition to require a public vote on demolition or transfer of ownership, he said.

And he noted that city elections are coming up.

Businessman Bill Haw, who said he has invested heavily in the West Bottoms, said private development was the best way to develop it without millions in city money.

He had supported the Foutch Brothers plan, he said.

Councilwoman Cindy Circo said she supported the American Royal plan that would preserve a key part of city history – the American Royal itself – at the same time it brought a wider community and multiple functions to the West Bottoms.

Councilman Ed Ford asked Cofran, “I hope you would agree with me that the status quo is not working?”

He did.


  1. Diane Capps says:

    The big shots of American Royal need to quit trying to throw their weight around and concede to us preservationists! Kemper Arena is an iconic building and is only 40 years old! It shouldn’t be dumped into the landfill!! Repair/Restore/Redo! Be GREEN!!!

    Diane Capps
    Historic Kansas City member

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