Put another slab on the smoker. The American Royal’s World Series of Barbecue will have a new home in the fall. The move paves the way for far more clarity in the potential redevelopment of Kemper Arena and the West Bottoms.
The announcement Tuesday that the Royal barbecue event would take place at the Truman Sports Complex this fall makes much sense and could very well be a win-win-win for almost everyone.
The American Royal now will have the space to allow its big annual event to thrive and expand. Kansas City can continue to tout its barbecue heritage and move ahead with plans to envision a new life for the low-lying area near Kemper. And the general public should have much better access to what has been a traffic-clogged and hard-to-attend event.
The World Series of Barbecue attracts competitors from across the continent and furthers the city’s identity as a global capital of smoked meat. The parking lots outside Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums already possess a reputation for tailgating nirvana, and the barbecue contest will add to that image exponentially.
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The decision at least partly resolves the contentious civic debate of last year when the American Royal Association argued that the iconic but underused Kemper stood in the way of the barbecue contest’s growth. It’s the biggest money maker for the Royal, whose horse, livestock and agriculture-related events have diminished in recent years. But the barbecue happens only one weekend a year, and that seemed an unrealistic reason to go along with the Royal’s $60 million plan to demolish the city-owned Kemper and build a new, smaller facility.
The Royal has talked about moving other operations to an undisclosed site in Kansas. But relocating the barbecue contest creates more flexibility for redeveloping Kemper, improving operations at the adjacent buildings of the American Royal Complex and capitalizing on an atmosphere of revitalization already under way in the West Bottoms.
City Hall is on the verge of issuing a request for proposals to reuse Kemper. That will test the market for the will and the way to pump new life into the historic building and the adjacent historic district.