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Hy-Vee Arena Opens, Bringing Shiny New Courts To Kansas City's West Bottoms

Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
Pickleball players took to the courts at Hy-Vee Arena on Friday.

For nearly a decade, the city of Kansas City, Missouri, lost $1 million a year on Kemper Arena. There were talks of demolishing the 40-year-old building. Others fought to preserve it. 

In 2017, not long after the arena received the historic designation that made it eligible for tax credits, the City Council sold the facility to the Foutch Brothers for $1. At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday for what is now Hy-Vee Arena, City Manager Troy Schulte returned the money to CEO Steve Foutch. 

"It's a small token, but, Steve, here's your dollar back," said Schulte. 

"I kept thinking there was every opportunity to fail, but there was one guy and his partners who believed in this vision," he said. "And we are standing here today really in appreciation for his passion, his vision and his willingness to dig deep to make this happen ... this is a beautiful testament to the power of an idea."

The new facility for youth and adult sports has two levels of courts for basketball, pickleball and volleyball, and what the developers describe as the longest indoor track in the lower 48 states. 

Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
One of the features of the Hi-Vee Arena: one of the largest indoor tracks in the United States, 350 meters long, over the new second floor.

Foutch Brothers spent the past six years and more than $39 million developing the project, which also has about 100,000 square feet of commercial, office and retail space. More than 40 tenants, including restaurants and sports-medicine providers, are moving in.

"We've already had some big events, (and) almost all of our commercial space is leased up," Steve Foutch said. "And we only have a few weekends left of court time to rent out for all of next year." 

Among the tenants is Cherry Sportsgear, which licenses products for sporting teams and schools across the country. Its space in the arena is the company's first retail store.

CEO and founder Thalia Cherry said she chose the location because of "the connectivity to youth in sports and all of the involvement and energy that's going to be here."

Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Thalia Cherry is the founder and CEO of Cherry, a licensed apparel and sporting goods company now based at Hy-Vee Arena.

"I'm an entrepreneur, there are always risks," Cherry said with a laugh. "Both my parents were entrepreneurs. It's in my blood. For me, it's just doing your very best, and making every effort. Risks are all worth taking, right? It's part of your dreams."

Open-house events were scheduled throughout the day on Friday and Saturday. Up first on Friday's schedule was a pickleball clinic.

"The whole point of pickleball is that anybody can do it. It's for young and old," said Kansas City resident Johnda Boyce. "It's just fun and easy, and quick to pick up and learn."

Boyce just started playing pickleball — a mix of badminton, ping pong and tennis. She said she was looking forward to this new location so she could play indoors in the winter. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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