Two Kansas City Council committees meet jointly today to take up the urgent matter of whether to demolish a landmark building and invest millions of taxpayer dollars in an organization hoping for a better future.
American Royal Association officials contend that their proposal for a smaller building to replace the 40-year-old Kemper Arena will save the city millions of dollars and relieve the city of maintaining and operating the underused facility and the adjacent American Royal Complex structures.
A proposed city ordinance offers a $20 million capital investment — the Royal had asked for $30 million — plus $1 million a year to subsidize the operation of a rejuvenated complex.
Council members surely will have the interests of taxpayers in mind when they absorb the numbers and consider this plan. But the council should also be prepared to determine what is the right thing to do for the city and the West Bottoms district, which is poised for a revival and holds out much potential for redevelopment and liveliness.
The American Royal’s plan on that issue is sketchy and hardly consistent with the considerable amount of thought and planning studies that have weighed the future of the West Bottoms, as Vladimir Krstic of the Kansas City Design Center reminded Mayor Sly James in a recent letter.
The American Royal’s tradition for more than a century has been to present horse and livestock shows, the audience for which has dwindled precipitously. A lot of high-class shows have moved on to other cities as the Royal complex has proved less than adequate.
On the upside is the Royal’s annual barbecue event. It has a significant national profile, provides the revenue that keeps the Royal operating but lasts for barely three or four days. Even if the World Series of Barbecue became a weeklong civic celebration, as Royal officials hope, the questions loom as to whether the Royal’s plan for the 51 other weeks of the year would succeed or whether the city would be able to fend off future appeals for more public funds.
The city must take the necessary time to answer those and other questions.
Can the city attract a redevelopment plan that takes a broader view than the narrowly focused hopes of the Royal? Is an amicable settlement possible if a different solution emerges that satisfies taxpayers and helps take the West Bottoms into a more vibrant future?
People are watching and hoping for an outcome that makes more sense than what’s on the table at the moment.