Public process replaces closed-door talks on the future of Kemper Arena

06/01/2014 7:00 AM

06/03/2014 2:23 PM

Two and a half years ago the American Royal Association announced its desire to replace the underused Kemper Arena with a smaller multi-purpose facility. The plan might cost $60 million, a good chunk of which would come from the city, which owns the arena and pays hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for its upkeep.

Never mind that the arena, built in the early 1970s, has distinctive architectural qualities that might be worth preserving. And never mind that some in the community want to save it. A developer even presented the city with a plan to renovate the arena and turn it into a center for youth-oriented sports and recreation.

In recent months the arena’s fate began to take on an appearance of urgency, but all discussion of the matter seemed to be happening behind closed doors.

Now, this summer, a public process will shed light on possibilities for the arena and the surrounding West Bottoms district. Last week, the City Council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee agreed to hold a series of meetings this summer to study the issues and recommend action to the full council by the end of September. That’s good news.

Though the American Royal has been chomping at the proverbial bit, the committee’s 90-day process represents the city acting at “lightning speed,” chairman Ed Ford quipped.

Competing visions for the arena should be given a fair shot, and as we’ve written before, the possibilities for finding a compromise involving both proposed projects or other solutions should be fully explored.

Complications posed by the American Royal’s long-term lease with the city and contentious stands by stakeholders regrettably might stand in the way of doing the more thoughtful thing.

So Ford’s committee has its work cut out, and those with an interest in this historic Kansas City district and landmark building should be preparing their best arguments and planning to keep watch of the committee’s work beginning in July.

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