Kansas City officials have issued the long awaited call for proposals to redevelop the underused Kemper Arena.
Developers have until the end of the day Aug. 21 to submit viable proposals. Reading the small print, it’s clear that redevelopment proposals could include demolition of the vintage 1970s arena: “Proposals will be accepted for either the reuse or redevelopment of the site and/or facility or any combination thereof.”
The request for proposals followed a drawn-out civic battle over the fate of the city-owned facility, which began when the American Royal Association asked the city to demolish the arena and replace it with a smaller, mixed-use facility, heavily financed by public dollars.
The newly issued document sets out a commendable mission, aiming to improve Kemper’s connection with the nearby West Bottoms district, the Kansas River and downtown areas in both Kansas Citys.
The city’s vision statement suggests a successful plan would redevelop “the Kemper Arena site as a catalyst or in conjunction with broader redevelopment opportunities within the area” and honors “the historic and economic significance of the City's agricultural roots, development of the stockyards, access to the river, but looks to the future economic opportunities of these industries in terms of real estate development, technology, and commerce.”
Proposed projects would be evaluated based on how well they support “existing business and community activities in the area,” and several other specific criteria. One states that a project cannot duplicate or compete with event offerings at the Sprint Arena, whose opening as a catalyst for downtown development in 2007 led to Kemper’s demise. A new developer and ultimate owner of the Kemper must also be mindful of the city’s long-term lease with the American Royal for use of the adjacent American Royal Complex and limited event days at Kemper.
The American Royal announced recently that it would move its annual, weekend-long World Series of Barbecue to the Truman Sports Complex this year, freeing up the Kemper parking lots and surrounding land for year round.
It’s quite possible that nothing reasonable will emerge.
But ideally a deep-pocketed visionary -- or a group of them -- will find a way to repurpose the landmark building while also helping to accelerate the urban revival already underway in the West Bottoms. New apartment buildings and rehabs are under construction or in certain stages of pre-development nearby. A catalyst project would seal the district’s fate and perhaps bring new life to the banks of the Kaw River just to the west of Kemper.