The fate of Kemper Arena remains in limbo, but at least a city conversation is on the horizon. On Wednesday, the Kansas City Council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development took up the challenge to study the state of the West Bottoms and conflicting visions for the underused city-owned arena.
Led by committee chair Ed Ford, the panel agreed to hold a series of meetings beginning about July 1 at which it will consider various existing urban plans for the low-lying district, the city’s financial and lease obligations involving Kemper Arena and two competing development proposals. One, from the American Royal Association, would demolish the architecturally distinctive arena and replace it with a smaller facility better suited to the organization’s needs, its officials have said. Another proposal, from Foutch Brothers, a development firm, envisions the arena transformed into a center for youth sports and recreation.
“The art to this will be to figure out if common ground can be found,” assistant city manager Robert Langenkamp told the committee.
The committee announced it would aim to take no longer than 90 days to make a report to the full council.
For his part, Bob Petersen, the American Royal’s president and CEO, told the committee, “We’re anxious to move forward.”
Separately, an effort to place Kemper on the National Register of Historic Places remains in the wings. That status would not prevent demolition of the arena, though it would help a developer seek historic tax credits for a potential renovation project.
Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte have acknowledged the city’s difficult position in the middle of a civic tug-of-war, given complications posed by the city’s longterm lease with the American Royal and the facility’s yearly maintenance costs.
Others with interests in the West Bottoms believe there’s room and support for both projects. The council committee will certainly discover if there’s any hope at all for that imagined common ground — or for a new life for Kemper Arena.