No team, no problem for Kansas City's Sprint Center

Monday, October 4, 2010 | 8:23 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — Three years after opening as an anchor to a revitalized downtown entertainment district, Kansas City's Sprint Center still has no major tenant.

But some city officials say it's possibly for the better, given the diverse lineup of concerts and other activities that bring patrons to the arena in droves.

Upcoming Events

Friday — Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Miami Heat

Oct. 16 — Carrie Underwood

Oct. 30 — Roger Waters: The Wall live

If a basketball or hockey team were to take up permanent residence at the Sprint Center, that could take away desirable dates for the acts that have helped the building outperform all expectations.

"My constituents love that building," said Russ Johnson, councilman for the 2nd District, which includes the Sprint Center. "They love what's going on there. That's one of the things Kansas City did well."

October is the deadline for the building's operator to either land a major tenant or lose its exclusive rights to seek one for the Sprint Center. But The Kansas City Star reports that no city leaders have expressed a desire to invoke that clause in the contract with Anschutz Entertainment Group.

"Frankly, if AEG can't get a team, who can?" said Herb Kohn, a Kansas City attorney who helped the city negotiate the Sprint deal with AEG.

But not everyone is content with status quo at the arena. The Cordish Co. operates the Power & Light District, an assortment of bars and restaurants across the street whose ultimate success relies on bustling arena crowds. The company gets $10 million to $15 million in subsidies from the city to cover the district's debt and wasn't happy that AEG hadn't landed a major sports team a year after the Sprint Center opened.

"The words 'gross negligence' and 'pitiful' come to mind," David Cordish, chairman and president of the Baltimore-based developer, wrote in a 2008 e-mail to Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser.

Things have smoothed out somewhat since then, and Cordish officials say they are pleased with the center's operation.

"It would nonetheless be a tremendous benefit to the Power & Light District and to the city as a whole if the arena had an anchor, major-league team," said Nick Benjamin, the district's executive director.

The city received $1.8 million last year from AEG as part of a profit-sharing agreement, and is on track to receive the same amount this year. That deal kicks in when the Sprint Center exceeds a 16 percent annual profit.

Funkhouser agrees that AEG should continue to seek a professional sports tenant, which he believes would increase crowds at the Power & Light District.

The district will get a taste on Friday of what life could be like with a major sports team when the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder play an exhibition game at the Sprint Center.

The game sold out quickly, especially after superstar LeBron James joined the Heat.

"Anywhere Miami plays is going to do well," said Tim Leiweke, chief executive of AEG. "But people were surprised about the Sprint Center gate and how quickly the game sold out."

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