Terry Dunn: A smart plan for the West Bottoms to replace Kemper Arena

08/12/2014 5:27 PM

08/12/2014 6:28 PM

The American Royal, in collaboration with Sporting Club, on Thursday is presenting an exciting master plan to the City Council of Kansas City to replace Kemper Arena. The master plan will also become a catalyst to develop a neighborhood identity in the West Bottoms.

The city is currently spending more than a million dollars each year to semi-maintain the outdated arena, and still entertainment acts want nothing to do with it. The city’s own promoter told the City Council that — even at Kemper’s cut rate — it’s not worth it for acts to book the arena because people just don’t want to go there.

With that in mind, officials at the American Royal have put together a plan that envisions a modern future for the site, the Royal and the surrounding community. It is well documented that the Royal, which holds a 50-year lease on Kemper, would replace the arena with a modern event center using private and public funds. But most impressive is the work the American Royal has done to develop plans to support a new facility.

American Royal officials have been briefing West Bottoms neighbors and businesses about their partnership with Sporting Club, which would operate indoor soccer and other athletic facilities in the building year-round. Given Sporting’s success at generating interest, and its obvious experience with soccer, the partnership with the American Royal offers one of the most exciting prospects in decades for attracting people and families to the West Bottoms throughout the year.

But the American Royal has gone another step and laid out an ambitious idea to re-energize the entire area. The vision would utilize the new event center as the engine of redevelopment that anchors a broader community effort to attract agricultural and animal health headquarters to the area as well as epicurean retail shops and farm-to-table restaurants.

The vision imagines “opportunities for micro farms, cottage dairies, creameries, specialty food shops, wine tasting rooms, year-round farmers markets, juice shops, bakeries, candle makers, etc.” Where better to connect a neighborhood to fresh food and events than the West Bottoms of Kansas City?

It’s a decidedly modern idea from a 115-year-old organization, and it underscores an important point in the discussion of what is next for Kemper. This is not just another project for the American Royal; it’s a community rebuilding effort from a Kansas City institution.

The American Royal has proposed to use a new facility as the catalyst to revitalize the West Bottoms, and it has put together a vision that many in the West Bottoms are already excited about.

Neighborhood redevelopments don’t just happen. The Crossroads did not become a hub of art and culture overnight. It took vision.

Many of the American Royal’s neighbors are already excited about this plan for a modern American Royal facility, a Sporting-powered sports program and reinvented West Bottoms as an “epicurean village.”

Here’s hoping the city is as well. The West Bottoms has been an underutilized asset for far too long.

Terry Dunn is president and CEO of JE Dunn Construction Group Inc., the holding company for J.E. Dunn Construction Co.

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