The reaction was swift when news came out in The Star that the American Royal Association was playing hardball in the battle over Kemper Arena. Not just any hardball, but a brushback pitch of the velocity that emulated anything Kelvin Herrera or Yordano Ventura might fling toward home plate.
Many Kansas Citians were outraged by the revelation that the American Royal’s high-priced attorneys threatened to sue the Foutch Brothers development firm if it didn’t stop questioning the organization’s lease with the city and stop pursuing a historic register designation for the 40-year-old arena.
The Foutch proposal aimed to retrofit and reuse the woefully idled, city-owned Kemper as a center for youth sports. That plan stood in the way of the American Royal’s obsessive hope for a do-over at the West Bottoms site that would eliminate Kemper and give it, at much taxpayer expense, a shinier and smaller building.
Well, dang, if the Polsinelli letter didn’t work. Foutch announced tersely last week that it would withdraw its proposal. That left the American Royal’s leaders a clear shot at arm-twisting the City Council onto their collective laps.
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Despite the fact that the American Royal’s horse and livestock shows are mere vestiges of the ag glory they once brought to town, they remain an important pursuit for many of the association’s collection of well-to-do citizens, some of whom actually live in Kansas City. The applause surely was long and loud when Royal patron Neal Patterson put up $200,000 to buy a championship steer at the Royal’s recent charity auction.
The City Council is on the verge of considering a $20 million (plus) investment in the American Royal’s plan. That’s less than what the organization has asked for, but would mean an annual lug no more than what taxpayers are shelling out now for Kemper’s operation and upkeep.
A citywide vote would not be needed for the city to proceed. But an election might be an option for opponents of the plan, who are discussing the possibility of an initiative petition to take the pulse of taxpayers on this important issue and the debt involved. An online poll by The Star showed strong sentiment for saving Kemper and denying the American Royal.
The city should continue to move very carefully on this plan and consider the wasteful effects of a Kemper demolition as well as thoughtful alternatives perhaps not yet on the table to help the West Bottoms continue on its path to urban recovery.
Caving to obstinate flamethrowers is an unfortunate way of conducting the city’s business.