Don’t rush to embrace the American Royal’s plan to demolish Kemper Arena

The futures of the American Royal barbecue and Kemper Arena (background) are tied together in the minds of Royal officials.
The futures of the American Royal barbecue and Kemper Arena (background) are tied together in the minds of Royal officials. File photo

Despite increased pressure from influential American Royal officials to tear down Kemper Arena, Kansas City’s elected leaders must continue to pursue a rigorous examination of the building’s future.

Correctly so, the City Council has established a schedule this year for scrutinizing not only what should happen to Kemper but also what could replace it.

Mixed into these conversations is the all-important topic of how much taxpayers would be obligated to spend making the dreams of American Royal leaders come true.

They want to replace the architecturally distinctive Kemper, which seats 18,000, with a smaller arena that would have 5,000 or so seats. They claim it would better serve their needs.

This week, two leading voices for the American Royal — UMB Financial Corp. CEO Mariner Kemper and Cerner Corp. CEO Neal Patterson — said they would supply the private funds needed for the demolition. That could be about $6 million, according to the city.

“What we’re attempting to do is to remove whatever obstacles are required to get this thing off center,” Kemper said.

Patterson put his own thumb on the scale, implying that the Royal could leave Kansas City if it doesn’t get its way.

However, much larger costs are involved to get to where Kemper and Patterson want to go. For instance, the public/private financing plans for constructing the smaller arena and making other upgrades to the Royal complex are far from settled. Indeed, preliminary discussions indicate tens of millions of dollars could come from local and state taxpayers.

Mayor Sly James and the City Council certainly should not capitulate to the American Royal right now.

Such a move also could mean dismissing a promising — though still unproven — idea to renovate and reuse Kemper Arena as a regional youth sports complex. That plan could cost about $22 million in private funds and is being promoted by a development team.

It deserves more study by City Hall, despite the contention by American Royal leaders that their new, smaller building couldn’t co-exist with Kemper. That’s because such a plan allegedly would remove too much property needed by teams participating in the once-a-year Royal barbecue.

City officials eventually must decide what’s best for Kemper Arena and the American Royal as well as for taxpayers and the future of the West Bottoms.

They still have plenty of time to get solid information before making any major move and should not feel rushed into doing so.