Council to determine future of Kemper Arena

 

The Associated Press

With the fate of Kemper Arena expected to be decided by a Kansas City committee in the near future, officials with the American Royal Association have announced they've made progress toward a goal of tearing down the arena and replacing it with a new building.

The organization announced Wednesday that it had surpassed its $10 million fundraising goal for the new building, and it has a verbal agreement with Sporting Kansas City's investor group to sometimes use the building for youth sports.

The announcement came the day before the Kansas City Council's Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee began a series of meetings to determine the future of Kemper, which has seen its usefulness drop dramatically after the Sprint Center opened. The committee hopes to have a recommendation by the end of August, followed by a decision by the full council by the end of September.

American Royal Chairman Mariner Kemper told The Kansas City Star (http://bit.ly/We6VIe ) that the organization had raised $15 million in private donations.

American Royal wants to build a $50 million agricultural events center to replace Kemper, with the city financing much of the cost. It's competing with a proposal from the Foutch Brothers, a Kansas City development company specializing in historic renovation, to acquire the arena from the city and convert it for youth sports.

Committee chairman Ed Ford said Wednesday that American Royal's announcements hadn't swayed him.

"I'm not convinced, and I don't think anybody on the committee is convinced, that the American Royal proposal, which includes tearing down Kemper, is the thing we should do," he said.

Some city officials have said the Foutch proposal would be less expensive and could potentially bring thousands of people to the city's West Bottoms for more than agriculture and horse-related events.

In response to that concern, American Royal Chairman Mariner Kemper and CEO Bob Petersen said the organization has formed a partnership with Sporting Club, the investor group that owns the Sporting Kansas City major league soccer team.

"We will be filling it year-round with these other types of activities, whether it's youth sports or outdoor festivals," Kemper said.

Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman said he's confident that Sporting Club could fill the arena with indoor soccer and other athletic activities when it's not being used for American Royal events.

Steve Foutch, managing director of Foutch Brothers, said the area has enough land to support both proposals.

"They can still have their new arena," Foutch said. "We coexist and do the sports and let them concentrate on equestrian and agriculture."

Foutch said an independent analyst said Kemper can be renovated for $21 million, and he can finance that privately if the city will give him the building.

The council will be briefed Thursday on Kemper Arena's financial situation and then take a tour. It is scheduled to hear from Foutch Aug. 7 and from the American Royal Aug. 14, with a public hearing scheduled in late August.

Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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