Ag group wants Kemper Arena torn down, replaced

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Forty years ago R. Crosby Kemper Jr. donated some land in Kansas City's west bottoms and provided funding for what would become Kemper Arena, named in honor of his father, who had just died.

On Tuesday, Kemper and his son Mariner Kemper were among several people urging the city to tear down the massive building and replace it with a new equestrian and agricultural center that's better suited to the needs of the American Royal, Kansas City's premier annual livestock show.

"Let's stop holding onto the past and living in the past and let's build for the future," Mariner Kemper, a member of the American Royal board, told The Kansas City Star (http://bit.ly/sShW2E ).

American Royal leaders said it makes financial sense to get rid of Kemper Arena, which once was the city's top venue for sporting events and concerts before the new Sprint Center was built downtown. These days, the arena sees little activity beyond events connected to the American Royal.

Among its more notable events over the years, Kemper was host to several NCAA basketball tournament regionals, and in 1988 hosted the Final Four, where Kansas beat Oklahoma. The arena also was home to the Kansas City Kings before the team left for Sacramento, Calif.

Dave Fowler, chairman of the American Royal board, said the city has 34 years left on its 50-year lease with the Royal, which means the city is obligated to keep Kemper up for its events. The city still owes $10 million on a $23 million expansion project in 1997, and there is about $20 million in deferred maintenance needed for the city to fulfill its lease agreement.

On top of that, Kemper Arena is losing about $1 million a year.

The Kempers joined other American Royal board members, city council members and other civic leaders to endorse the idea of tearing the arena down to make room for a 5,000-seat coliseum and facility tailored to year-round livestock and horse shows, in addition to the Royal's annual barbecue and festival events.

Cost of the new facility is estimated at $70 million, including $50 million in new construction, $10 million for demolition and upgrades to the existing American Royal complex, and $10 million to pay the outstanding Kemper debt.

The Kempers said their foundation would try to raise about $10 million. It's unclear where the rest of the money would come from.

Mariner Kemper said the arena has outlived its useful life, since the city can't support two big arenas. Kemper Arena has been losing events since the Sprint Center opened in 2007.

"The Sprint Center is built. It is the city's arena for concerts and sports," Kemper said. "Instead of trying to hold on to what we have and this wonderful history, 40 years of history, let's build for the next 40 or 50 years."

Kansas City Mayor Sly James said in an emailed statement that while no decision has been made, he is excited about the proposal to replace the arena.

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