$500M arts campus would put hotels, apartments and amphitheater near Kansas Speedway

Kansas City developers envision students and seniors living together on a sprawling $500 million mixed-use campus with an arts and entertainment theme.

The 180-acre Bonner Crossing development is planned for the southwest corner of State Avenue and Speedway Boulevard in Bonner Springs, near Village West and the Kansas Speedway.

Developers presented their latest plans for the concept to the Bonner Springs City Council Monday evening. While the city has not yet reached a final development agreement on the project, the council on Monday approved the last zoning change needed to move forward.

Plans call for Bonner Crossing to include a mix of more than 1,000 new residential units, a retail promenade and three new hotels, along with a medical office, assisted living and memory care facility and an independent living development for seniors. The development also would include a new 1,800-seat performing arts center, a 500-seat black box theater and space for a for-profit college that trains students in the behind-the-scenes work of the arts.

Bonner Crossing’s marquee draw would be a concert pavilion, which would seat 7,000 people indoors; rolling doors on the back side would open up to elevated seating that could accommodate another 7,000 people outdoors in an amphitheater-like setting.

The community will include a range of housing options.

Basic apartments will rent for less than $900 per month. Some high-end three-bedroom units with community amenities will rent for as much as $2,500 per month, Wes Schlobohm, founding partner of The Solutions Group in Shawnee, told the city council Monday. He envisions Velocity Arts, the school planned for the campus, to lease a block of apartments for student housing.

“There’s eight different levels of opportunity for people to live here,” Schlobohm said. “So if you want to live there, there should be some place for you to live.”

The campus will also include a 53,000-square-foot esports arena to house competitive video gaming events.

“It’s where people go to watch people play video games. It’s crazy,” Mark O’Hara, a senior landscape architect at HOK, one of the firms designing the project, said at the meeting. “My son watches it all the time. It’s a burgeoning industry and it’s going to be one of the first of its kind in the United States.”

Developers said Bonner Crossing will create several hundred construction jobs and 450 permanent jobs.

Velocity Arts is expected to fill a 100,000-square-foot facility on the campus that includes a cafe, studios, classrooms and film and television production lab spaces.

A Johnson County lawyer representing a company called Velocity Arts, LLC filed articles of organization with the Kansas Secretary of State in August 2018, records show. The Star’s attempts to reach that company this week were unsuccessful.

O’Hara said Velocity Arts would train students to work in back-of-house production and engineering jobs.

“It’s really a live-work-play type of on-the-job training,” he told the city council.

It’s unclear what the new performing arts venue would mean for the nearby Providence Medical Center Amphitheater, a long-established Bonner Springs venue that can seat about 18,000 people.

Chris Fritz, who owns the company that manages the venue, said he doesn’t know how two amphitheaters will coexist two miles apart.

“I don’t know how that works. I’ve never seen it anywhere,” he said. “It’s a very tough business. I would say buyer beware.”

Fritz said Providence has a fairly healthy year with 20 events scheduled this season. But he said no one’s getting rich off the venue.

Fritz said he was surprised by the $500 million price tag of the Bonner Crossing development and wondered how the new theater would generate enough revenue. The market is already crowded, Fritz said, with his amphitheater, Starlight Theatre, Sprint Center, KC Live! and several other venues competing for shows.

Fritz said Bonner Springs isn’t the metro’s best spot for a concert venue. The amphitheater is fairly well established after being around for nearly 40 years. But he said it struggles to bring folks in from the eastern part of the Kansas City metro because “it’s too far.”

“It’s not an ideal location, “ he said.

At this point he’s less worried than curious about how the nearby development progresses.

Greg Kindle, president of the Wyandotte Economic Development Council, said the new venue should benefit the nearby amphitheater.

“They work well together because it’s a different demographic that’s going to be looking at participating or going to school there at the Bonner Crossing project,” he said in an interview. “It’s a very unique development unlike any other in the KC market, which is the great part about the project.”

Kindle said the project will likely receive incentives through tax increment financing, though the incentive package has not been finalized. That process should wrap up soon, he said, to keep on track with developers’ plans to break ground this fall.

The new development, together with the American Royal’s planned move to the area, will extend the boundaries of the bustling Village West shopping district.

“Physically, it pulls that development that much further to the west,” Kindle said.

He said the arts and entertainment theme should be a draw for both seniors and students.

“In terms of living, people are looking for something different all the time. Folks just like these interactions,” he said. “It adds a unique flair that we have not yet had that brings in a whole different type of audience.”

Kevin Hardy covers business for The Kansas City Star. He previously covered business and politics at The Des Moines Register. He also has worked at newspapers in Kansas and Tennessee. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas