Kemper Arena wins historic preservation key to redevelopment

Historic preservation status granted for the storied, and long-troubled, Kemper arena could pave the way for its rebirth as an amateur sports complex
Historic preservation status granted for the storied, and long-troubled, Kemper arena could pave the way for its rebirth as an amateur sports complex The Kansas City Star

Kansas City officials revealed Saturday that they’ve secured historic preservation status for Kemper Arena — seen as a boon for its redevelopment as an amateur sports complex.

In a news release, Kansas City Councilman Scott Taylor said an event scheduled for Monday morning will announce “that the historic designation has been secured for Kemper Arena. …The historic designation allows the developer to secure historic tax credits which are essential to financing the renovation into a youth sports facility.”

The release said Kemper, now set to be renamed Mosaic under a sponsorship agreement with the chain of health clinics, has been granted status on the National Register of Historic Places because of its significance in local Kansas City cultural history.

That will qualify the building that once was a top-end concert venue, site of the 1976 Republican National Convention and former home to big league and minor league sporting events for historic tax credits baked into redevelopment plans. Such tax advantages figure heavily in financing for an ambitious makeover of the building as a regional draw amateur youth, adult and family sports.

Most buildings on the national registry are at least a half century old. Kemper was built just 42 years ago. Its potentially historic architectural significance was compromised by changes made in the 1990s.

The nomination had been processed through the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office. But the designation ultimately was determined by the National Park Service.

That decision places Kemper alongside hundreds of other Kansas City buildings. The Historic Kansas City Foundation had included Kemper Arena on its most endangered buildings list in 2014. It appeared then that the city was on a path toward demolishing the arena to make way for a new American Royal building. But that plan stalled.

Instead, the Foutch Brothers, the development company that plans to retool the West Bottoms arena into a mecca for amateur sports, pursued its hopes for the predecessor to downtown’s Sprint Center.

The new Foutch version, with the Mosaic branding, aims to open in 2018 for $25 million to $30 million. The project would add a second floor and more than double the arena’s capacity for indoor soccer, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, dance, fitness, running and biking tracks and sundry other athletics.

“This is a major milestone for the project,” Steve Foutch, CEO of Foutch Brothers, said in an email Saturday night. “There are many hurdles to get over for this project, but this was by far the biggest one of them all.”

Saturday’s press release reflected a City Hall glee for a promising avenue toward securing the money that could give the old arena a second life.

“This is a transformative project for the youth of Kansas City that is moving forward step by step. ” Taylor said in the press release. “We have a strong track record of historic preservation in Kansas City.”

He said the project will save taxpayers Kansas City $1 million a year they’re required to pay for upkeep at Kemper and spare the city the possibility of the estimated $10 million it would cost to demolish it.

The official announcement is set for Monday outside the arena at 10 a.m.