So couldn’t we just pry the top off Kemper Arena and fill it with water? Voila! Instant aquarium!
Or how about turning it into the largest “indoor farm” in the country? Or an indoor dog park! A covered baseball stadium! A train museum!
Really, the possibilities for Kemper’s next act are just endless, as long as we don’t have to think too much about money or politics or other practicalities.
Never mind any of that, we instructed readers. Think big! Think outside the box (or whatever shape Kemper is).
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Which explains why we received proposals to make Kemper a center for drone operators and designers, a “mobile event facility” on tracks, a fishery, a “catastrophic emergency response facility” and a basketball venue (which it’s been in the past; remember the Kansas City Kings?).
Then there was this: “Have you ever seen ‘Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome’? That. That is what we should do with Kemper,” wrote one Guido Sarducci. (Hmmm.)
“Just do something with it” was a refrain we heard more than once. “I would hate to see it disappear entirely,” said Laura M. Johnson of Kansas City, who fondly recalls going to Kemper for the American Royal, roller derbies and quilt and garden shows.
“My father used to take me to events at the arena almost every other month,” says Johnathan Irwin of Kansas City. “It’s a real shame to see that disposing of it, rather than using it, is even an option.”
Well, it sounds like everything is on the table as city leaders mull Kemper’s future and ask the public for input.
As for what we heard from readers, if anyone wants to borrow any of these more fleshed-out ideas, we’re sure the creative geniuses behind them wouldn’t mind. By the way, several of the following proposals included “world class” in front of them, but we got tired of typing that.
▪ A Midwest TV and movie studio: “Just think,” says William “Pat” Wigley of Blue Springs, “we could see the next big sitcom called ‘Big Slick,’ starring Paul Rudd, Eric Stonestreet, Jason Sudeikis, Rob Riggle and David Koechner. The show would be about five con men who secretly benefit a small local children’s charity while trying to maintain their reputation as big-time crooks.”
Well, Mr. Wigley, we’re not sure you have a future as a TV development exec, but the general idea has merit. Kemper, he mentions, is also “isolated enough to help with security to keep rabid fans at bay.”
▪ America’s largest indoor farm: James V. Scibetta of Weatherby Lake says his proposal, which would feature hydroponics and aeroponics (plant roots hang suspended in air) as well as solar energy, would be a nod to Kansas City’s agricultural history.
And Paul Baker of Leawood says a “farm-themed Kemper Arena makeover” could incorporate the National Agricultural Hall of Fame (now in Bonner Springs) and be supported by the KC Animal Health Corridor to teach kids about animal wellness.
▪ A digital gaming epicenter: Johnathan Irwin of Kansas City explained that eSports are “a very competitive form of the videogame hobby which encompasses multiple genres and with huge rewards, as they’re often sponsored by the companies who make the games, as well as other rich third-party entities.” As a gamer, Irwin sees “huge potential for Kemper Arena as an eSports venue,” partly because of its middle-of-the-map location. (There’s a website devoted to this cause: ekemper.fwdkc.co.)
▪ Part of a new KCI Airport: Dennis Evans of Merriam advocates dismantling Kemper, moving it to KCI and using the shell for a new airport lobby. “Put it between terminals B and C with people movers shuttling passengers to and from the outlying circular gates. There should be plenty of room inside for new and wondrous amenities to be a world-class airport.”
▪ A huge play zone for kids: David Suroff is talking little electric cars on guide rails on a high-up track, laser tag, basketball courts, arcade games, virtual reality rooms, mini-movie theaters, daycare and an adults-only area with Internet cafe, food stores and other retail. “It could easily spur more development in the West Bottoms, like family-friendly hotels and restaurants.”
▪ A train museum: Here’s Nick Popejoy of Kansas City to explain. “The railroads helped transform KC into what it is today as well as contributing greatly to the westward expansion of America. The West Bottoms would be a great place due to the proximity of past and present rail yards, original location of Union Station and one of the places where modern KC can trace its roots. Kemper would be large enough to house antique train cars and other railroad equipment as well as other westward expansion artifacts.”
▪ A hub for light rail: Jerry Warren of Independence envisions tracks east (to the stadium complex) and west (to The Legends and Kansas Speedway), plus bus and taxi service to other areas. Down the road: light rail to the airport and south KC.
▪ An outdoor shopping mall: Sig Tomeldan of Lenexa advocates tearing Kemper down and turning the area into a pedestrian-friendly mall with “mainstream retail” stores like Old Navy and Forever 21 so city dwellers won’t have to drive to the suburbs.
▪ An aquarium: “The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago would be a great example to follow,” says Dennis All of Shawnee, adding that “the current one here” (Sea Life Aquarium at Crown Center) is too small and too expensive.
Dianne Heaton Kixmiller of Kansas City is thinking a river aquarium. “Why can’t we build a 3-4 story aquarium similar to the (Georgia) Aquarium in Atlanta, only fresh water? The fabulously renowned Missouri Department of Conservation could advise on design, construction, etc.”
And two related proposals:
▪ An indoor water park: Former resident Chris Hertling, now in Leesburg, Va., but moving soon to Lawrence, envisions demolishing Kemper’s seating bowl and replacing most of the white exterior panels with glass. “Add pools and slides to the interior and provide an incentive to a private developer to build a hotel and restaurants adjacent.”
▪ An indoor fishing hole: Andrew Fessler of Lee’s Summit says the building could be sealed up, filled to a certain level with water and stocked with fish. “Then charge admission to have people fish from the upper levels or by canoe/kayak in the middle. Bass Pro could even have a small store” there.
▪ An indoor dog park: “There is really no place to go in the winter for dogs,” says Karen Maness of Olathe. “There could be tracks around each floor. There is room for several agility practice courses. Areas for small, medium and large dogs.”
▪ A multipurpose cultural center: This idea would spin off “the energy of Kansas City’s exponentially growing arts scene,” says Patricia Gray of Kansas City. But the new Kemper couldn’t compete in any way with Sprint Center or the Kauffman Center, she says — no concerts and no major sporting events.
▪ A children’s museum: “Somewhat on the order of the one in Indianapolis,” wrote Margaret Carruthers of Kansas City. “A starting point could be the hands-on children’s museum that was at the Indian Springs shopping center during its better days.”
▪ A youth hockey complex: Raymond Tiller, who told us he’s 11 and a peewee youth hockey player, envisions this: “I think you could put three or four hockey rinks inside Kemper Arena. You could have hockey tournaments every weekend with youth hockey and college teams. Teams from all over would come to play instead of going to Minneapolis or St. Louis. It would bring in thousands of people and lots of money for Kansas City.”
▪ A jazzy Cirque du Soleil show: Lynn Pierce of Independence imagines “a show based on jazz music. Get a permanent Cirque troupe to perform at the Kemper since it has high ceilings and a large area to perform Cirque stunts. Using jazz music would define it as a Kansas City show unlike any of their other shows around the globe. The Kemper reminds me of a metal circus tent, and with the right promoters a Kansas City-based Cirque could attract local citizens as well as out-of-town guests.”
▪ A go-kart racing complex: Marlon Smith, a KCK native now living in Phoenix, is thinking multiple tracks on two or three levels. “Make Kansas City the indoor go-kart racing center of the world.”
▪ Space for tech startups: “Reconfigure the building into a high-speed Internet hub with business/meeting space to provide young tech companies and entrepreneurs the opportunity to immerse their team into a collaborative and innovative culture filled with creative energy,” says Jeff Munro of Leawood. He’d also like to see living spaces nearby targeting millennials.
▪ A dirt bike training center: Just remove part of the lower seating area and add jumps and curves, says Brian A. King of Shawnee.
▪ A vendors marketplace: Shirley Marshall of Kansas City is thinking a marketplace similar to Reading Terminal Market in Philly or other such markets in this country and across Europe. “Here you can delight in rows upon rows of everything: ethnic/organic foods, flowers, produce, fish, cheese, breads, chocolate, eateries, crafts, sushi bars, creperies, boutiques … ”
▪ A covered multipurpose stadium: Clear the entire area, urges Kenneth Lee of Raytown, “and construct a covered, multipurpose (baseball) stadium on the site of Kemper Arena. Surround the stadium with attached, multilevel parking facilities so that visitors can park on the same level as their seats and walk directly to them.”
▪ A social services center: Put vocational training classes, medical and dental clinics, a clothes closet and overnight shelter under one roof, says Christy Watson of Overland Park.
▪ A big band dance venue: Ed “Gomer” Moody of Kansas City says his proposal would include space for ethnic dance clubs and a museum of dancing history. And maybe “Dancing With the Stars” could relocate there?