American Royal wants Kemper Arena torn down

Friday, August 15, 2014 | 12:37 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — American Royal officials told a Kansas City Council committee that it still wants Kemper Arena torn down, rather than renovated, even if a competing proposal includes space for the Royal's events.

The competing proposal from developer Steve Foutch would reconfigure the 40-year-old, 18,000-seat Kemper in western Kansas City to be used mostly for youth sports. Foutch said in a meeting with the committee last week that a separate, smaller building could be built to host the Royal's equestrian and agricultural-events.

However, Royal officials told the committee Thursday they were not interested in that proposal, saying they also wanted to use new building for youth sporting events, partially in partnership with the ownership group behind the Sporting Kansas City soccer club, The Kansas City Star reported.

Royal officials said putting another building on the site would reduce parking and leave no room for the annual American Royal Barbecue and other outdoor events.

"We're trying to take the American Royal to the next level, and we need new facilities to do that," said Mariner Kemper, American Royal chairman and grandson of the arena's namesake.

The Royal has a long-term lease that requires the city to provide space for its events through 2045, which prevents the city from simply closing the arena.

Mariner Kemper and attorney Chase Simmons told the committee the Royal wants to spend $60 million to raze the arena and build a new building. American Royal has raised $10 million from donors and said state and federal funds of about $20 million would come from tax credits and other funds, while city taxpayers would borrow the remaining $30 million for the rest.

They said the proposal to renovate Kemper would cost $50 million and be more of burden to taxpayers. Foutch contends his plan would cost only $22 million.

Committee Chairman Ed Ford said he had hoped the two groups could compromise.

"Outside of the American Royal, I've yet to have anybody tell me we ought to tear it down," he said. "The enthusiasm the American Royal has to tear down Kemper escapes me."

Mariner Kemper said he is not enthusiastic about tearing down a building that bears his family's name but Royal officials and their consultant have come to the "unfortunate" conclusion that it was necessary.

The committee hopes to make a recommendation to the full city council next month.

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