Government & Politics

City prefers youth sports plan to restore life to Kemper Arena

City officials have opted for a plan to redevelop Kemper Arena for amateur youth and adult sports. The arena has been underutilized since the Sprint Center opened in downtown Kansas City in 2007.
City officials have opted for a plan to redevelop Kemper Arena for amateur youth and adult sports. The arena has been underutilized since the Sprint Center opened in downtown Kansas City in 2007. File photo

Kemper Arena, now a largely vacant and silent relic in the West Bottoms, would pulse with new life under a redevelopment plan that has been given the nod by city officials.

The city will announce Monday that a selection committee opted for a plan by Foutch Brothers LLC of Kansas City that would use the arena as a venue for amateur youth and adult sports.

That concept was preferred to an alternative proposal that envisioned a minor league hockey team taking up residence at the underutilized arena in the West Bottoms.

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Details of the Foutch Brothers redevelopment proposal will be the subject of a public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Kemper.

“I encourage all citizens that have an interest in the redevelopment and historic preservation of Kemper Arena to join us for the public tour and hearing on this proposed redevelopment plan,” Kansas City Councilman Scott Taylor said in a statement.

A tour of the arena will begin at 6 p.m. The public is asked to park in the north lot and enter through the administrative entrance under the blue awning.

Taylor, chairman of the council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee, said the next steps for the city will be a “rigorous financial vetting” of the Foutch Brothers proposal and negotiation of the final sale of the building.

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Officials have sought a redeveloper to acquire the arena, which currently costs $1 million annually to maintain. The arena became a redundant venue with the opening of the Sprint Center downtown in October 2007. Kemper opened in 1974 and sits on about 10 acres of land next to the American Royal complex.

The city received two responses when it issued a national request for proposals on Kemper. The other concept was offered by Steven Brothers Sports Management Co. The company owns Genesis Health Clubs in Wichita and a stake in some hockey teams. In addition to a junior hockey club, its idea was to use Kemper for other indoor sporting events, smaller concerts and other entertainment.

The selection committee comprised elected officials and representatives of all city departments.

“The Foutch Brothers presented a new and dynamic use for Kemper Arena that will bring widespread economic impact to the West Bottoms and downtown,” according to an announcement from the city.

Foutch Brothers had initially proposed the amateur sports idea for Kemper Arena in 2014 but retreated after it met fierce opposition from the American Royal.

The Royal wanted the city to replace Kemper Arena with a smaller venue for horse shows and other events. That would have created more room for the annual World Series of Barbecue, which was attracting more competitors than there was room for. City officials, however, were not keen on what could have been a $60 million project, and the American Royal dropped its pursuit of the idea.

The city preferred to seek a reuse of Kemper while hoping that the American Royal, a tradition since 1899, would remain in its long-term lease in the West Bottoms. The American Royal announced last week that its barbecue contest, which was at Arrowhead Stadium last year, will be at the Kansas Speedway this year.

Many preservationists also said Kemper Arena’s distinctive architecture was an argument against replacing it.

“We have a chance to redevelop Kemper Arena into a vibrant focal point in the West Bottoms that will help support the existing small businesses and encourage others to open shop,” Taylor said.

There is a resurgence in the area. The Stockyards Place development offers luxury apartments at 1515 Genessee St. The owners of the nearby Voltaire bistro are planning a new Golden Ox restaurant in the Livestock Exchange Building, 1600 Genessee St.

There are also a growing number of antiques shops, and it is a popular place for artists.

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