New attractions, businesses are coming to KC in 2012

Todd Haley, Mark Funkhouser, John Covington

So 2011.

Time to move on! It’s 2012, no time for disappointment, no room for ambivalence — nothing but great things ahead. (At least for now.)

So, with New Year’s wishes, here are 12 reasons to be excited about KC in 2012:

Sea Life

After years of talking about bringing an aquarium to the area, Kansas City will finally make it happen.

Midwestern landlubbers can get up close and personal with more than 5,000 marine creatures when the Sea Life Aquarium opens in April at Crown Center.

“It’s not just standing in front of a tank and watching fish swim,” said Mendy Rose, marketing manager for the venue.

The $15 million attraction, by Merlin Entertainments Group, will include more than 30 displays, including caves and a giant tropical ocean tank with a walk-through underwater tunnel.

Visitors will be able to see everything from seahorses to sting rays and come “nose to nose” with sharks. One feature will transport them on a visual journey of marine life from the fresh waters of the Missouri River to the blue coral of the Caribbean Sea.

Touch pools will let visitors handle starfish, crabs, urchins and other species.

Tickets will be $19 for adults and $15 for children ages 3 to 12.


Castles, race cars, bridges or entire towns ...

Kids can live out their engineering fantasies, building them all at the new $15 million Legoland Discovery Center, opening in May.

Merlin Entertainments Group chose Crown Center for the aquarium and Legoland. The two attractions will occupy the first two floors of Halls department store and the former Morton’s steakhouse space.

The center will have Lego interactive rides, birthday rooms, play rooms and Lego models of Kansas City landmarks.

No teenagers and adults on their own will be allowed to monopolize the model-making rooms. The center is intended mostly for kids ages 3 to 10.

“This is designed to be a family attraction,” Rose said. “People 18 years or older have to be accompanied by a child.”

Like the aquarium, prices are $19 for adults and $15 for children. A combo ticket for both attractions will cost $29 for adults and $22 for children ages 3 to 12.

New at the zoo

Everyone’s waiting for the penguins to arrive, but that won’t happen until at least 2013. In the meantime, the zoo’s two Sumatran tigers will get new and better digs this year.

Zoo crews will move the tigers to an open area north of their current exhibit, giving them five times more space than they currently have.

“It’ll be a great tiger habitat,” said Randy Wisthoff, zoo director.

The zoo hopes to break ground in January and open the exhibit in May or June. It will feature a pool where the tigers can cool off, waterfalls and rock ledges. It will also be built into a hillside that should provide a more stimulating topography for tigers and zoo visitors. The exhibit will be enclosed with a steel mesh designed to be largely invisible.

The Titanic, 100 years later

Kansas City will be hosting the largest exhibit of Titanic memorabilia in the U.S. when the world marks the 100th anniversary of the giant passenger liner.

The traveling exhibit is returning to Union Station, where it also docked in 2001, but with more authentic artifacts this time. The salvage company has been to the wreck site four times since 2001 and has brought back more items to display. The producer promises more than 300 items, such as White Star dinnerware, jewelry and eyeglasses.

The exhibit runs from March 10 through Labor Day, so it will span the actual anniversary of the sinking, April 15, 1912. Union Station plans to mark the anniversary in a distinctive way, but details are not yet available.

“We will, of course, have a big event for that weekend, yes,” said Tony Cook, Union Station’s marketing manager.

Tickets will cost $19.12 ($10 for Union Station members) and $16.12 for children ages 3 to 18, plus college students with ID, seniors and military.

All-Star Game

For the first time in 38 years, baseball’s All-Star Game is coming to Kansas City. The city plans to roll out the red carpet in July for international media and more than 100,000 visitors for nearly a week’s worth of events.

“There are few instances where the international spotlight will shine on Kansas City, and this is clearly a huge, huge opportunity to cast our image around the world,” said Rick Hughes, president of the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association.

It’s the first national sporting event in Kansas City since the 1988 Final Four. Tourism officials estimate it could provide a $50 million to $60 million shot in the arm to the local economy.

The game is July 10 at Kauffman Stadium, but city officials are touting five days of fan fun. The FanFest at Bartle Hall runs July 6-10, with exhibits, memorabilia and appearances from star athletes past and present. The State Farm Home Run Derby will be July 9 at the stadium.

All-star concert at Arrowhead

Arrowhead hosted a sold-out Kenny Chesney concert in 2011. An even bigger event is planned this summer.

Chesney returns with Tim McGraw June 10 for the “Brothers of the Sun Tour.”

This concert tour represents the first time in 10 years that Chesney and McGraw have performed together and also features special guests Grace Potter the Nocturnals and Jake Owen.

“It’s the biggest party of the summer,” said Kansas City Chiefs President Mark Donovan.

Donovan said it will be a full day of music, featuring four acts, with tickets ranging in price from $25 to $250.

Pipes at PAC

The Casavant pipe organ is now assembled — all 5,548 individual pipes — at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, and KC will get its first chance to hear what this magnificent instrument can do.

The inaugural concert is scheduled for March 10 (with the possibility of a second concert March 11), featuring organist James David Christie.

“Obviously, we’re incredibly excited,” said Larry Jacob, a spokesman for the Kauffman Center. “We’re thrilled to finally hear it.”

It’s the largest mechanical-action organ that Casavant has built since the early 1990s, when it built the organ at the Community of Christ Temple in Independence.

Casino at Kansas Speedway

A new $300 million casino will open in February along turn two at the Kansas Speedway in Wyandotte County.

“We’re looking forward to the opening of a spectacular property,” said Karen Bailey, director of public affairs for Penn National Gaming. “It will be a first-class venue for the Kansas City area and will continue our great partnership with the International Speedway Corp.”

The 100,000-square-foot casino will have a capacity for up to 2,300 slot machines and 52 table games, plus a sports bar and other restaurant options. A future phase calls for a hotel and retail area.

The casino is expected to provide more than 1,000 full-time jobs and attract 4 million visitors annually.

Art of the world

World’s Fairs of years past may have closed down, but the artwork lives on.

And this year, visitors to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art will see many of those creations in an exhibit running from April 14 through Aug. 19.

All of the works were unveiled in World’s Fairs between 1851 and 1939.

“The objects are the finest of their kind,” said Toni Wood, manager of marketing at the Nelson. “They would have demonstrated their nations’ very best in manufacturing, creativity and design.”

The exhibit, titled “Inventing the Modern World,” features about 200 objects shown at every major and several minor World’s Fairs, including stunning decorative arts in glass, silver and porcelain, as well as masterworks of jewelry.

To complement the exhibit, the Nelson is inviting Kansas City students, architects and designers to submit proposals for a temporary pavilion. The winning proposal will be built on the museum’s grounds.

Smooth cruising in Joco

Sometimes, just having better roads to drive on is something to look forward to, especially in Johnson County.

The $82 million reconstruction of U.S. 69, stretching from 103rd Street north to Interstate 35, should finally be finished in summer 2012.

“It will provide for a much smoother ride,” said Kimberly Qualls, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Transportation.

The U.S. 69 corridor links some of the fastest-growing communities in Johnson County, and the work has snarled traffic for more than two years. It was supposed to be finished in fall 2011, but construction was delayed by utility issues.

Improvements are designed to make the road safer and to relieve traffic congestion. The highway has been widened from two lanes to three northbound and southbound, and the roadway will have new pavement.

Qualls said the work will also include a new exit ramp at 75th Street, as well as improved interchanges at 87th, 95th and 103rd streets.