If you build it, they will come – at least that’s the idea behind a proposal to demolish Kansas City’s Kemper Arena and replace it with an agricultural events center.
Under the proposal announced last week, the new center would be designed to seat 5,000 people and feature accommodations for animal stalls and a covered show ring.
It sounds nice, and just the thing to attract events to Kemper Arena, which these days houses the American Royal and little else. In its heyday, the arena regularly rocked with concerts and other mega events that drew people to downtown Kansas City.
These days, concert-goers flood the Sprint Center downtown, and Kemper Arena is largely left to deteriorate in the West Bottoms until the annual American Royal event.
The new proposal is expected to cost $70 million – that number includes $10 million to pay off debt on a 1997 renovation of Kemper. City officials have largely appeared reluctant to sign on to the latest proposal, and that’s with good reason. Through 2045, the city is required to keep facilities in place for the American Royal. Officials estimate that the remaining 35 years of the contract will exceed $40 million. If the city transfers ownership of the facilities, it owes the American Royal a $12.5 million credit.
That’s money the city can ill afford. For now, the Kemper family, which donated the land for the arena nearly 40 years ago, will spearhead efforts to raise private funds for the new agricultural events center. It seems highly unlikely that the kinds of funds needed to make the proposal a reality will materialize. If they the full collection of $70 million and 15 percent more for additional padding, Kansas City, Mo., residents could be left holding the bag.
Despite the Sprint Center’s rank of No. 11 among all worldwide revenues for the first quarter of 2011, and its boast as No. 5 among concert venues, the center isn’t holding its own financially. Kansas City taxpayers are subsidizing the project. And as fantastic as the Sprint Center is, many acts and events that may have selected Kemper in the past, are choosing the Sprint Center instead. Will a remodeled Kemper take acts from the Sprint Center?
And why should residents of Johnson County – southwestern Johnson County, no less – give a hoot about Kansas City’s problems? Our good fortunes are inexplicably tied to those of Kansas City. We hope KC officials will think carefully about potentially burying their citizens under more debt. We share the same economic tide, and we hope Kansas City’s boat is on the rise.