The futures of the Kemper Arena building and the entire West Bottoms have brightened considerably in the last few days. Now it’s up to city officials and a private developer to carry out a renovation plan for the historic building.
Yes, we said “historic” because Kemper recently was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service.
Never mind that the building is just 42 years old. Supporters of the designation successfully argued that the arena — site of the 1976 Republican National Convention and a home to sporting teams, concerts and other events before the downtown Sprint Center came along — is a significant piece of local history.
The new designation will make it possible for developer Foutch Brothers to apply for all-important historic tax credits that can help finance a proposal to turn the building into an amateur sports attraction.
If all works as planned, Kemper will be renamed Mosaic Arena and reopen in two years. The $30 million or so project would add a second floor to the arena, making it possible to hold indoor sports such as basketball, volleyball, gymnastics and soccer, while providing space for activities such as running and dancing.
This is an exciting reuse plan that could help with the revival of the West Bottoms, which in recent years has slowly added more housing units and entertainment destinations.
The official announcement Monday about the historic status came after more than two years of efforts to make sure Kemper Arena would not be torn down. Originally, backers of the American Royal Association had hoped for that outcome so they could build a smaller facility to help hold their annual events.
Properly so, city officials balked at putting taxpayers on the hook for what could have been a $60 million project.
The rift between City Hall and the American Royal helped lead the association to look for a possible new home on the Kansas side of the state line. That outcome would be unfortunate, given the Royal’s long history in Kansas City.
Back to Kemper’s future. CEO Steve Foutch of the development group says getting access to millions of dollars in historic tax credits is a “major milestone for the project.” But it also puts pressure on the Foutch group to aggressively move forward in putting together a full investment proposal that can make the amateur sports facility a reality.
Foutch so far has survived an attempt by American Royal officials to make him drop his plan for keeping Kemper Arena standing. That civic dust-up prompted City Hall to closely examine what to do with the facility, which led to a push to seek the status on the National Register of Historic Places.
The successful outcome of that effort created this tantalizing possibility: Kemper is saved, renamed and reused, ensuring it remains a valuable asset for the West Bottoms and for Kansas City area residents for many more years.