A plan to turn Kemper Arena into a youth sports complex received a warm reception Wednesday at a city council committee meeting held at the facility.
Large, framed photos from soccer games, livestock shows and concerts line the walls – a glimpse of what the old West Bottoms arena used to be.
But with its only tenant, the American Royal, seemingly poised to move to Kansas, Kemper has sat largely empty in recent years.
“The cost to the taxpayers is about $1 million per year that we’re paying just to keep this building in existence,” Councilman Scott Taylor said at a press conference before a public tour of Kemper.
Because demolishing Kemper would cost at least $5 million (a green teardown would likely cost twice as much), Taylor and other members of the Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee are recommending the arena be sold to a private owner for renovation.
A plan from Kansas City-based developer Foutch Brothers would add a second floor to Kemper Arena at the balcony level, doubling the floor space for youth basketball courts. Steve Foutch told the committee a youth sports complex could draw as many as 5,000 people to the West Bottoms each weekend.
“That is the basis of this arena where we can repurpose it for a different kind of event that happens in here, but it has to happen more often,” Foutch said. “All year round, all week long, as many hours as possible.”
Foutch said sports other than basketball could be accommodated by putting down mats. He also said rolling out turf wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. The plan also calls for significant office space and a track.
Neighbors expressed some concerns about traffic, but most of the public comment taken after the presentation was positive.
But there could still be hurdles, mainly cost. It’ll take an estimated $25 million to revitalize Kemper, and Foutch says some of that money will need to come from historic tax credits – and he’s waiting to see if the arena earns a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
Foutch also wants a 10-year, 100 percent tax abatement on the property.
Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.