Government & Politics

Kansas City Council vote paves way for Kemper Arena redevelopment — with $1 sale

A Kansas City Council vote Thursday moves Kemper Arena close to being redeveloped by Foutch Brothers.
A Kansas City Council vote Thursday moves Kemper Arena close to being redeveloped by Foutch Brothers. kmyers@kcstar.com

Foutch Brothers has the go-ahead to secure final financing for its ambitious repurposing of Kemper Arena as a destination amateur sports complex.

The Kansas City Council, by a 9-1 vote Thursday, allowed the city manager to execute a real estate sale of the facility to Foutch for $1. That allows Foutch to pursue about $8.3 million in historic tax credits and other financing for the project, estimated to cost up to $30 million.

“This will be a transformational project for Kansas City that will bring indoor amateur sports tournaments to Kansas City,” said Councilman Scott Taylor, who added that the deal will save the city more than $1 million per year in maintenance costs on the virtually mothballed arena.

Councilman Scott Wagner, the lone dissenter, praised the project itself but raised concerns about whether it will provide a fair percentage of prevailing wage union jobs. The Planned Industrial Expansion Authority, which approved tax abatement for the project, has a goal of 25 percent prevailing wage jobs, but there’s no guarantee about that, or certainty about which jobs will be prevailing wage.

“It gives me some pause,” Wagner said, questioning how any such goal could be enforced on this private developer.

Jason Hodges, who advocates for union contractors, watched disappointed from the audience. He said afterward that the city keeps looking to labor unions for help with its campaigns but doesn’t do enough to ensure skilled labor gets its fair share of the construction work in the city.

Mayor Sly James said he is a big supporter of unions and prevailing wage. But, he said, but this is a “unique case,” in which the city tried for years to find a developer to repurpose Kemper Arena, and Foutch ended up being the only viable option. Other supporters said requiring prevailing wage might have made the construction cost prohibitive for a speculative project that isn’t likely to generate much profit.

Steve Foutch, CEO of the company, said after the vote that his general contractor, whom he declined to name, is getting construction bids over the next few weeks. Foutch predicted that the nature of the arena work, including structural, mechanical, plumbing and electrical, will require significant numbers of skilled laborers who would be paid the prevailing union wage.

Foutch said it was a relief to finally get this far and be close to starting construction, possibly by the end of April.

“Just very happy to be at this point after four years,” he said. “Can’t wait to get it going.”

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley

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