Government & Politics

August 25, 2014

Public sharply divided on future of KC's Kemper Arena

About 80 people turned out Monday night for a public hearing on Kemper Arena’s future, and speakers aired sharply divergent opinions. American Royal supporters said the city should demolish Kemper to provide for a custom-designed center and plenty of space for exhibitors and the American Royal barbecue. Opponents said it would be a travesty to tear down Kemper Arena, and the city should instead repurpose it for youth sports.

If Kansas City Council members were seeking a community consensus on the future of Kemper Arena, they didn’t get it Monday night.

Instead, about 80 people who turned out for a public hearing voiced sharply divergent opinions on the proper path forward. The 20 speakers were almost evenly divided on two competing proposals before the City Council.

One of those calls for demolishing Kemper Arena to make way for a custom-designed agricultural/multipurpose center for the American Royal. The other is a vision by Foutch Brothers to renovate and repurpose Kemper Arena as a regional hub for youth sports.

Bertil Wamelink, president of the Heart of America Region USA Volleyball, urged the Council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee to support the Foutch plan. He said his organization brings 900 teams to Bartle Hall but has maxed out that facility, and the Kemper plan could bring hundreds more teams to the region.

“I would hate to see that opportunity be wasted,” he said. “It seems to me almost a no-brainer.”

Historic preservation advocates also strenuously opposed the demolition of an architecturally significant building and said there should be a way to accommodate both plans.

But American Royal supporters said Foutch doesn’t have the proven 100-year track record of the American Royal as a local treasure, and argued the new building can ensure its national stature and long-term future. They said they did not want a new building in the shadow of Kemper Arena.

“Kemper will always be yesterday’s building,” said John Mitchell, vice chair of the American Royal board. “Compromise isn’t always the right path.”

While Foutch says Kemper can be repurposed for $22 million, the American Royal says it would cost more than twice that much, and a new building would be far more cost-effective.

Committee Chair Ed Ford says that in the coming weeks the city will try to reconcile those different estimates. It will also analyze the financial viability of Foutch’s youth sports plan. The Council hopes to make a decision on the best approach by the end of September.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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