Step one: an open mind on options for Kemper Arena

07/17/2014 7:00 AM

07/19/2014 6:13 PM

A Kansas City Council committee on Thursday began what promises to be — and what should be — a thorough assessment of the details and the arguments needed to settle the fate of Kemper Arena.

The first of five scheduled meetings provided the committee background on the 40-year-old arena’s history, on the hundreds of thousands of dollars of red ink it generates annually as a chronically underused city facility and on at least three development and planning studies that have focused on the West Bottoms district.

On the table are two competing visions — one from the American Royal Association to demolish and replace Kemper, the other from Foutch Brothers, a private developer, to refurbish and reuse it.

Major parts of the calculation should entail what’s best for taxpayers, for the city and for the future vitality of the West Bottoms district.

Councilman Ed Ford, chairman of the Plans, Zoning and Economic Development Committee, affirmed that one potential outcome of the study now under way would be to recommend combining the Royal and Foutch plans, which American Royal chairman Mariner Kemper vehemently opposes.

Committee members and others toured the arena and learned about its outmoded mechanical systems and the millions of dollars it would take to refurbish and modernize Kemper’s restrooms, concession stands, seating bowl and other areas.

It became clear in the committee meeting the challenges of maintaining a building that’s barely used — thank you, Sprint Center — and trying to book events at a place few promoters want to touch.

The committee spent about 45 minutes in a closed session to discuss the city’s lease with the American Royal, which covers Kemper and the adjacent American Royal complex of buildings to the south. That contract joined the two entities at the hip for a regrettable 50 years, a period that doesn’t run out until 2045. Some insiders think the lease has the city over a barrel.

But Ford’s committee should determine whether amending or breaking the lease would cost the city (and taxpayers) more than a commitment to help finance the American Royal’s replacement plan.

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